Post Millennial Trauma: Dumplings (2004)

God damn it, I didn’t want to do this film. I really didn’t. I’ve scoured the internets and read list after list after list of films in 2004 hoping against hope that there was an overlooked horror film in there that I hadn’t seen that could maybe do. However, having read hundreds of these things, I was eventually forced to either concede and do Shaun of the Dead (Frank’s Saw marathon put paid to that one) which is a comedy, or damn it, delve into this film that I saw a while ago and swore blind that I would never watch again. Needless to say, I’ve gone with the latter.

If you are of a nervous disposition and succumb to nausea easily then I suggest that you don’t read on, as I am going to have to put in a pretty strong spoiler. If you are armed with Dramamine or have no qualms then go for it, but consider yourselves warned. Basically, don’t read this at lunch as you’ll go right off it.

Man this is a repugnant fucking film, it really is. However, some of the lists I’ve read at horror blogs that have been forced to include crap like The Day After Tomorrow in their horror picks of the year really means I’ve got little choice but to cover what is a truly repellent, beautifully shot, intensely disgusting film. I actually feel ill now even thinking about it.

Dumplings grew out of a segment from the “Three Extremes” anthology, which gathered together three of the most “extreme” directors in Asia (no surprises really for seeing Miike was one of them). It wasn’t a bad idea, but it wasn’t a great film. Dumplings, I have to say, is dramatically better than the anthology that spawned it, being probably the only tale of the three that could stand to be expanded to feature length. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that the world is a better place because Fruit Chan decided to expand his segment.

Dumplings is, basically, a film about cannibalism, but not just cannibalism but cannibalism with a really nasty twist. I know that eating people is basically not nice at the best of times, but the events of this film, particularly the preparation scene two thirds of the way through (I’ll go into this with the reveal later) is in my top 3 nastiest things I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen an awful lot of horrid shit. I have no idea if there is a Chinese myth regarding medicine that this plunders, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out there was, what it does do, though, is refer back to the days where breeding was limited in China and combine it with a significant amount of mysticism, hocus pocus nonsense, and revulsion to turn out a truly unique and truly horrifying little film. I don’t know if Dumplings is a moral fable, and I don’t know if it’s just pure exploitation, but what I do know is that after seeing this film in 2006, I haven’t eaten Dim Sum since, and rewatching it has just hammered that home.

Mrs. Lee (Miriam Yeung Chin Wah) is a fading actress who has heard of a magical “youth” cure that can stave off the aging process. The only person that can supply the cure is Bai Ling’s Mei, who feeds her dumplings from a special recipe. Unfortunately for Mrs. Lee the cure doesn’t work, her husband (Tony Leung Ka-Fei from Election and The Lover, not to be confused with Tony Leung from every other Chinese film of the last twenty years) is a bit of an arsehole and has lost interest in her. So, Mrs. Lee goes back to Mei and demands the most potent mix of dumplings that Mei can provide, which works wonders, and the years drop off her. Unfortunately, she’s now completely addicted to the dumplings, and even worse, there’s a bad side effect where if she doesn’t eat them regularly she will smell like fish (not joking, the dinner party scene is terribly embarrassing). Mr Lee shags Mei (who it turns out is actually octogenarian due to sampling her own product), and then buggers off with her. This doesn’t matter, though, because Mrs. Lee now has the recipe including the all important secret ingredient.

All the actors in this are actually quite good. Bai Ling seems to be nuttier than squirrel poop in real life, but in her native tongue (avoiding shite like a cameo in Wild Wild West) here she actually puts in a cheerfully sleazy performance. It’s pretty obvious at the end that she’s wanted to get her claws into Mr. Lee for a long time, but it’s still not bad. Tony Leung Ka-Fei plays a cold womanising asshole well, but the real plaudits go to Miriam Yeung, whose character starts as haughty masking a sad desperation and then increases in mania before finishing the film well in need of restraining under Section 8 for her own good.

However, the real strength of this film is in the cinematography. Dumplings looks fucking fantastic, with a varied colour pallette and stylistically the film it reminds me most of is Infernal Affairs. Which is no surprise, really, when you know that Christopher Doyle was the man on both films. However, I do have to say that the direction here is really good, Chan doesn’t dwell in the depravity available to him, and even the most gruelling scene of the film isn’t actually wallowed around in. It’s still viscerally unpleasant, don’t get me wrong, but it could have been so much worse. Dumplings moves at a stately pace, Chan knows full well that the revelation in this film is an absolute fucking humdinger and as such he doesn’t feel a need to beat the audience unconscious with it.

Which, finally, brings me round to the revelation. I’ve already semi-given it away above with references to China’s birth rate and cannibalism, but now I’ve just got to come out and spoil. Dumplings is a pure horror film and a very extreme one for one reason only: Mei stuffs the damned things with cut up foetus. Yuck.

However, this isn’t unpleasant enough for Fruit Chan, so the device is used that the foetus is more potent the nearer it is to birth- which leads to the truly harrowing scene of the film: the abortion on the 15-year-old neighbour. Mei cheerily owns up to having conducted somewhere in the region of 30,000 terminations, and the reason her dumplings are the best is because she takes the fresh zygote, dices it up nice and thin (juliennes, even) and then stuffs the Dim Sum with the foetus and other assorted flavours. The abortion scene is fucking harrowing, but what makes it even worse is that at Mrs. Lee’s next lunch date we can see the foetus being prepared and (I’m not exaggerating this) it’s got fucking hair- it even looks like a baby. Yuck, I almost lost my lunch when I saw this, and went right off the Chinese Takeaway I was eating. With this revelation the sense of “wrongness” to the earlier scenes of Mei lovingly making pasta drop painfully into place: it felt wrong because it fucking was wrong.

Overall, I can’t say I recommend this. Although Dumplings is a supremely well made film, it is also truly horrible, and deeply unpleasant to watch. However, in a year as short of quality on every front as 2004, where Horror was a barren wasteland of crapness, inept schlock and general tedium, this is unfortunately probably the best film made. Nevertheless, it’s so unpleasant and so hard to get through that I give it a deeply nauseated two and a half Baby Herman’s out of 4.

Remake this one, Hollywood. I fucking dare you.

Until next time,


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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

37 responses to “Post Millennial Trauma: Dumplings (2004)”

  1. Jarv says :


    2005 isn’t looking any better either.

    Still, 2006 is Leslie Vernon! HUZZAH!

  2. Spud McSpud says :

    What the fuck is wrong with these people?? JEEEESUS!!

    Sounds like that twisted e-mail hoax that did the rounds in 2001, supposedly with a cook in (I think) Thailand showing how to prepare and eat an infant in still photos. It turned out to be a hoax – but what the FUUUCK…

    Will DEFINITELY be giving this one a miss. Though I’d fucking LOVE to see the US remake this too 😀

    Cheers Jarv – scarring your soul with such putridity so we don’t have to…

    • Jarv says :

      This is twisted beyond belief. I deliberately structured the pictures from one scene- preparation, serving, and eating. It’s fucking repellent.

      I couldn’t find the photo of Bai Ling taking a meat clever to the baby with hair. That’s too much.

      This is a well shot, well directed intensely nasty film.

      Weirdly, Mrs. Jarv really likes it.

  3. Droid says :

    Here’s a surprise for you…

    I haven’t seen this! *waits for the gasps and murmurs to die down* And I can safely put this in the “just not for me” pile.

    Sounds vile. No thank you.

  4. just pillow talk says :

    Hmm…my post since to have been consumed by the internet trolls..

    As I was saying…UGH! I was making worse and worse faces as I continued reading.

    I don’t know what made me more disturbed: the fact that this was made or that you’ve seen this TWICE!

    Dude, don’t do this to yourself.

    And I can’t believe Mrs. Jarv liked this.

  5. DocPazuzu says :

    I’ve had this movie floundering around a bit in a remote part of my sadly immense film collection for several years but have never gotten around to seeing it. After reading this review it’s liable to stay put for at least 20 years before I get the nerve up to watch it. Eewww…..

    • Jarv says :

      It’s thoroughly minging, sure enough, and done with absolutely no violence whatsoever.

      Genuinely stomach turning stuff.

      I’m wondering if I didn’t over-foetus the chinese lunch here.

      Wait, what am I saying, she takes a meat cleaver to an abortion that has hair.

      Never mind.

  6. Droid says :

    Aside from the the fact that the film is vile and disgusting, the biggest reason I will never watch this is…

    after seeing this film in 2006, I haven’t eaten Dim Sum since

    I will never allow my eyes to witness anything that could turn me off Dim Sum.

    DIM SUM FTW!!!

  7. Tom_Bando says :

    Jarv I intentionally just skimmed down real quick ‘cuz I’ll gladly take your warning–this sounds like shit.

    You know, you’ve gotta be close to hitting the wall w/ this stuff. I donno how you do it, frankly. Why not go back and start reviewing things you like to watch ala In Bruges or something? Trot out some classic Peter Sellers Pink Panther flicks or a trio of Gregory Pecks or whatever floats your boat.

    I don’t think even a marathon of A*P*E* would equal the wretchedness of this one.

    • Jarv says :

      The idea, which unsurprisingly I had not thought out properly for this column was to review post 2000 horror films that I like.

      That would in theory have given me a break from the perpetual crap that I have inflicted on myself.

      2006 onwards is nothing but cracking films

  8. Bartleby says :

    Man, Jarv. Why didnt you just do The Roost? It’s not a classic but it was at least fun.

    I can’t in good conscience give this more than 2 stars at best, and the overall repgunancy of it suggests a 1.5.

    Sure it’s well made, but so perhaps ( I don’t know and will never learn) is Serbian Film. The strange thing is that this actually sort of worked as part of the trilogy Extremes. It was nasty and sick, but it was also a little more understated and full of dread.

    There was no good reason to have a feature length film from this material and it’s actually a terrible idea that translates into a rather terrible film.

    Sorry Jarv. I’d rather watch Eraserhead again.

    Good review though. Are you doing Isolation for 2005?

  9. Bartleby says :

    oh is it? You should do that one then Jarv, over Isolation. I liked it better.

  10. koutchboom says :

    I’ve seen this film. It just bored me. Yeah it was gross but thats about all I can remember.

  11. ThereWolf says :

    That’s fuckin malignant.

    I’m not watching that. I saw the trailer awhile back and thought then – no, not for me.

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