Review Index


A stunning horror film from Korea.  Stylish, erotic, and often hellaciously grotesque, it plays like a deranged collaboration between Andrei Tarkovsky and Dario Argento, a work of great integrity that adventurous viewers are urged to seek out.

The Package
     Keep your eye on Korean cinema.  Past Korean films (like the substandard Godzilla wannabe PULGASARI) haven't exactly brought the film world to its knees, but recent years have seen a stunning resurgence, with the head-snapping action flicks NOWHERE TO HIDE and ATTACK THE GAS STATION, the shocking serial killer thriller TELL ME SOMETHING and the all-around brilliant drama GREEN FISH.  Few of those films, though, are as stunning as THE ISLE (SEOM; 2000).
     Written and directed by Kim Ki-Duk, a respected and controversial figure on the Korean film scene who also made the highly experimental (but far less successful) REAL FICTION the same year, THE ISLE may well be the film that catapults Korean cinema out of the "cult" arena and into
the stratosphere.  In the year since its completion, it's already garnered a substantial cult following at film festivals around the world, although it has also reportedly caused fainting due to some truly unpleasant scenes.  For thoughtful adults with strong stomachs, THE ISLE is a must see, and it's gratifying that so many seem willing to take the chance.

The Story
A mute woman lives in a tiny floating house on a vast, ghostly lake.  She and a friend are prostitutes, servicing the fishermen who also live on the lake.  But when she saves a disturbed policeman from suicide (diving under the water and poking a reed up his ass, thus preventing him from drowning himself), she finds
herself drawn into a bizarre and all-consuming relationship.  Far from salving their individual neuroses, the tryst, which involves sex and more sex, only drives them further into madness, turning each into metaphorical fish reeled in by the other's "bait," encapsulated by two truly shocking, already notorious scenes involving fishhooks (you'll know which ones!)

The Direction
     Kim Ki-Duk may be a madman, but he's an extremely talented one.  The film, unpleasant though it often is, is stunningly visualized.  Close-ups are flawlessly interspersed with wide shots to create a near-hypnotic ambiance, and the deceptively quiet atmosphere of the lake is depicted with astonishing vividness, making it one of the most memorable movie locales of recent years.
     There are some sour notes.  The director clearly loves metaphors, but some of them may be a bit too blatant; I can accept the "reeling in" scenes, but I found a climactic shot, of the lead actor disappearing into a distinctly vaginal clump of reeds, a bit much.  And then there's the issue of violence.  Unlike many disgruntled festival viewers (who've been quite vociferous in attacking the film), I didn't mind the violence done to the people, all of which is simulated, but did have a problem with the real-life cruelty inflicted on animals, including a fish who gets skinned and then let loose in the lake and a dog who suffers what looks like a painful beating.
     Ultimately, though, the film is a disturbing and unforgettable trip into a place we definitely haven't seen before.  And anyway, you've got to love a flick where a woman places bloody fishhooks on the ground, which just happen to form the shape of a heart!

Vital Statistics

Myung Film Company, Ltd.

Director: Kim Ki-Duk
Producer: Eun Lee
Screenplay: Kim Ki-Duk
Cinematographer: Suh Shikwhang
Editor: Min-ho Kyeong
Cast: Suh Jong, Yoosuk Kim, Sung-hee Park, Jae Hyun Cho, Hang-Seon Jang


Home   Movies  Games  Stories  Comix  Adam's Bio