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The Isle (2001)

A movie directed by Ki-duk Kim (II)

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Sexy, Erotic and Surreal--Seo Jeong Seduces and Amazes! (Plus: Fish hooks)

  • Jan 23, 2009

I've always been a fan of Kim Ki-Duk's. I've reviewed most of his films and for some reason, I haven't reviewed my first experience from this outcast Korean director. Kim has been labeled an outcast because his films are methodical, violent and his style usually deals more on themes and imagery rather than its narrative. "The ISLE" (2000) is a beautiful film, emotionally violent, horrific and it defies a solid definition of genre. It is a story about obsession and the examination of relationships. I'll get right to the point: if you can't stand sequences of animal abuse and if you prefer a more direct form of filmmaking then "The Isle" may not be for you. Kim's films are usually for the esoteric few who appreciate and understand this method in filmmaking.

Hee-jin (amazingly beautiful Jung Suh, also known as Seo Jeong) is a supposedly mute boat keeper. She supplies bait and food to the relaxing fishermen in the lake by day, and at night, she sells her body to the selfsame fishermen. One day, a man named Hyun-Shik (Yoo-Suk Kim) arrives, who supposedly came to fish but he is a man on the run from the law and is actually considering suicide. Hee-jin grows curious with Hyun-Shik and seemed to have developed a fondness for him. She watches him from the shore when he finally decides to commit suicide and she intervenes. The two begin to form a strange bond that may be beyond our basic instincts.

The little fishing village is a perfect backdrop for writer/director Kim Ki-Duk's film that borders on being a twisted fable and a conventional horror film. Now, even with its scenes of violence and animal mutilation, it is not a horror film; rather, it is a drama that tackles violent and obsessive behavior full of emotional content in a very direct way. When Hee-jin becomes abused by the fishermen after having sex with her, she responds with a violent fury that almost seems psychotic when she takes her revenge. "The ISLE" has very limited dialogue, the two lead characters hardly speak to anyone but their actions more than speak for themselves. It also has the most disturbing sequences with a fish hook that I've ever seen.

The movie is an examination of relationships between men and women. Kim is very fascinated with gender and relationships so he puts this factor in center stage. The two actually have a "Lynchian" type love affair. When Hyun-Shik tries to force himself on Hee-jin and she refuses, she sends him a prostitute that he befriends and she becomes extremely jealous. The sex scene between the two is erotic but at the same time, twisted. The slightly psychotic Hee-jin transforms into a romantic one when she is in Hyun's presence. Actress Jung Suh is thoroughly convincing as her character swings from one emotional mood to the next. No wonder she has become renowned for her role in this film. As the unusual bond develops between the two, their attachment to each other grows, both physically and emotionally. When one is hurt, the other responds in kind. Enter the Fish Hook.

                Scene on Boat

Kim also shows just how the marginalized world of the lake operate; each gender is dependent on one another. Men are fishermen, pimps, criminals and cops. Women clean and provide care, sex and amusement. Both sexes are also potential adulterers which gives them common ground. In this world, both men and women play typical roles, and while in this world, men are considered the stronger of the two, but they are also very reliant on women. Hee-jin provides the boat, the only means of transport, food, to clean and sexual services. The relationship between the two is dependent on one another. Men are rendered incomplete without women as are women are also fairly incomplete without men.

There are subtle metaphors in the film and the key images in the film are enhanced by stunning visual flair. The shots become frozen in time as certain key elements and themes are driven home by visual manipulation. The film is a little slower paced that allows the viewer to properly absorb its sequences. The film does feel a bit longer than it actually is because the camera lingers at times. The direction and storytelling depends on its imagery.

THE ISLE is a worthwhile film and has become among my favorites by Kim Ki-Duk. Those who prefer straight-forward storytelling will be alienated but those who love challenging cinema with an "art house" thought provoking style will be rewarded. Kim doesn't really explain the climax in a conventional manner and leaves it to the viewer's interpretation. Kim excels in the surreal that may frustrate viewers but his style is definitely powerful. The film is well balanced but requires patience in order to be appreciated. Those with the correct mindset will be rewarded with "The Isle".

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! [4 ½ - Out of 5 Stars]

Note: The U.S. release is not the uncut edition with extended scenes of lizard and fish mutilation and an unexplained dog abuse. I own the uncut edition. Websites list the woman as Hee-jin but her name is never really mentioned in the film. This review was originally posted in amazon.com

Out in the rain


Korean Movie Poster Underwater Seo Jeong aka. Jung Suh Seo Won as the Hooker Scene on Boat Out in the rain

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April 26, 2011
Excellent review WP
December 16, 2009
I wonder if I should start at the beginning this time. I don't think I care much for the animal abuse...so the cut version will work fine for me. Nothing against lizard and fish...but I'm a dog lover. I own four of them...and hate to see them abused...even in film. Strange. The human mutilation seems acceptable. I guess it is all contextual. The dogs don't have the capacity for evil.
December 16, 2009
I know a lot of people had that reaction to this film. Kim has since become a little more mellow. I loved his latest flick DREAM. Kim has fantastic ability to realistically and artistically portray human sadness and has earned him a rep as an outcast director in Korea.
January 23, 2009
Hello, Count, I think they are usually staged to give that impression. Although truth be told, there is one scene here when a person catches a fish, cuts off a piece to eat as sashimi then puts it back in the lake. The fish was later found to still be alive in the film. I'm pretty sure it was made to be that way. I have however seen more graphic animal mutilations in other asian movies that looked very real--this one was fairly mild.
January 23, 2009
As a strong supporter of animal rights, this film looks too disturbing for me to watch. Now, I understand that in various Asian countries that there is no law or organization that monitors and prevents the exploitation and abuse of animals, so what I want to know is: do they really hurt, maim and kill animals in the film or is it all just staged to appear that way?
More The Isle (2001) reviews
review by . December 02, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
This is my third film from director Ki-duk Kim (II). The first one being "3-Iron" and the second "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring" both being great but close to silent films. The Isle (Seom), a deeply troubling and equally beautiful film that will shake the hardiest of souls despite a minimal body count and bloodletting. The poetic setting propels much of the storyline, which follows lost souls Hee-Jin (Suh Jung), an errand girl and occasional prostitute who services a neighborhood of floating …
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Beautiful, angry and sad, with a curious sick poetry, as if the Marquis de Sade had gone in for pastel landscapes... beautiful to look at. --Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
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Director: Ki-duk Kim (II)
DVD Release Date: May 20, 2003
Runtime: 89 minutes
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