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.
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.
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!)
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.
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!
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