Updated: Nov 11, 2020
Dissection by Kelly
Currently listening to: Carnivorous Lamb by Fleshgod Apocalypse
Oh boy, another DVD left to me by my old gorehound partner. I swear, this is the last, but I am definitely reaping the benefits now, much more so than when we were together. Fancy fucking that. I was going to check out Anthropophagus for Taboo Terrors but after I finally popped in 3 Extremes for the first time, I was forever changed when I watched the opening short film. Two taboos for the price of one - abortion and cannibalism! Who knew fetuses would be so...satisfying. Let’s bite into Dumplings, shall we?
Dumplings comes from the delicious mind of Chinese director Fruit Chan, otherwise known for his work on a variety of films that I have yet to see (The Midnight After (2014), Made in Hong Kong (1997) and Three Husbands (2018)). It was also written by Pik Wah Lee but credited as Lillian Lee. Dumplings was initially only a short film but then was turned into a full length feature involving the same actors and crew. There are a few major differences between the two, mainly enhancing the relationships within the narrative but the endings are quite different. The short film has a presumed ending and the full length has a very uncomfortable, intense one. It stars Bai Ling as Aunt Mei, Tony Ka Fai Leung as Mr.Li and Miriam Chin Wah Yeung as Mrs. Li.
Dumplings is bursting with social commentary, from classism to the fear of aging. It's most noteworthy with the showcasing of abortion and the consequences the one-child only policy. The one-child only policy was long-standing in China until 2015 when they revoked it. This meant that no longer would female fetuses be seen as less valuable, even though overall men are culturally seen as more useful. What I found wonderful and fascinating about Dumplings was how absolutely nonchalant our resident abortion provider, Aunt Mei, discussed the contents of her infamous dumplings. You see, her dumplings are made from aborted fetuses that she gathers from nearby hospitals and claims they have rejuvenation properties. This is how Aunt Mei makes a living. She performs abortions when needed as she has experience with them since she used to be a gynecologist in Hong Kong. She believes that she is “serving the people”, and that she is; women of all ages and social status rely on her. However, the one abortion we see her perform unfortunately turns out to have tragic results. That subplot is heart-wrenching and would 100% be triggering to some. It begins with the rape of a daughter and ends in bloody despair.
Mrs. Li, an aging beautiful actress, seeks these infamous dumplings as she is afraid of looking too old. Her fears are not helped by the affair that her husband is having with a much younger woman. Aunt Mei is apparently in her 60s, but you would never be able to tell she was anything older than 30. We're convinced that these dumplings do actually have magical anti-aging properties. We also learn that late second to third trimester fetuses are more nutritious and even better for reversing the aging process, though they are crunchier due to the development of their bones.
Side note, according to the Mayo Clinic, in week 19 of development “a greasy, cheese like coating called vernix caseosa begins to cover your baby.” Yuck. You probably don’t want to eat those ones.
Those that have issues with abortion would find Dumplings incredibly traumatic to watch. You see first trimester fetuses chopped up into small pieces, but also a third trimester fetus being prepared for consumption. There's a lot of emphasis on chewing sounds which made my partner squirm in his seat and that is really hard to do. I laughed. In the full-length version though, Mr. Li partakes regularly in the ingestion of balut or as it’s known as in China, maodan. This is where people eat boiled, developed duck or chicken embryo directly from the shell. I gagged and almost vomited. OK, that is actually worse than a fetus being covered in a cheese like substance.
As a person who has had a late term abortion, I didn't find the movie difficult to watch, but found it so refreshing. Very rarely do you see the subject of abortion played so honestly and openly. I like to think of Dumplings as passive cannibalism, not the active type which includes murder, feeding those that desire it. My baby could have fed someone but instead went into medical waste. What did make me uneasy was the back alley abortion and the presumed self abortion that we see in the short film. As a woman, seeing speculums and instruments being put into a vagina or cervix is infinitely, and forever, cringe-worthy. I am incredibly pro-choice and even pro-abortion, but of course, only when it is consensual!
This is not a movie that could have been made in North America as abortion is still highly stigmatized and frank discussions of it are hushed. The image of a fetus, of any age, provokes deep emotions for a lot of people. Feelings of sentimentality and the like.
Dumplings shows the breakdown of a woman; a victim of a culture that fetishizes appearances and places high value on beauty and youth. When it is deeply ingrained into a culture, it’s hard not to become affected by it. Despite this, I think the film is feminist as fuck, and it wasn’t what I was expecting. I am in love with all things Dumplings!
I would give Dumplings a ⅘ on the Nightmare Scale for back alley abortions, metal speculums, and savory fetus ASMR.
Now pass the soy sauce and see you in September for the next gruesome addition of Taboo Terrors!