(Gaau Ji)

Directed by Fruit Chan. Hong Kong, 2004.

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With an opening shot taken from underneath a truck, the thumbprints of Christopher Doyle's excess of style and experimentation are evident in an instant. 

Dumplings is an unusual modern East-Asian film, as this tag generally denotes work, particularly on the Asian Extreme side (which Dumplings can be said to belong to), who's virtues are innovative, gruesome violence accompanied by a throbbing, pounding soundtrack. The lack of said violence in Dumplings is more than made up for in its perverse, primal theme - that of eating dead foetuses in order to obtain eternal youth. The soundtrack is also markedly different as the incessant, rhythmic beats of the more music video-esque end of Asian extreme cinema are traded in for a very peculiar, jolting, though immediately effective score, with the noise of the scraping of knives and the boiling of water being amplified and exaggerated to a huge degree, giving each moment in the film a very awake and alive effect. 

However these are really just details and side attractions. As in spite of the credits reading "directed by Fruit Chan," this is for all intents and purposes, to those who are aware of his work, a Christopher Doyle film. I say this because his presence is so obvious in every single shot of the film. Each set-up, each scene, there is the feel of constant experimentation, the constant drive to see how each image can be made more interesting and imaginative, that it is unmistakably a Doyle film. This constant freshness in the shot can have its downsides though, however not many of them are evident here. Though the main problem with Doyle's approach is that there is always the danger that his cinematography can eclipse the rest of what the film has to show, offer or say. It is very self-aware virtuosity that Doyle brings to the film, and to an extent this is the showcase. The mise-en-scene, the characters and their actions are all elements of Doyle's style, and they work for him, rather than vice versa. There are perhaps times when his shots get a bit too distracting in terms of keeping the audience involved in the plot, though it really isn't the plot that we are interested in. Not a great deal happens throughout the film and we are never really in a position of great sympathy for the plight of any of the characters.  

On a whole the style sustains our interest for the compact 91 minutes running time, and the well designed sets - particularly in the flat of the Dumpling chef - means our interest is always kept alive through Doyle's unusual angles and framing. 

Shaun McDonald
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