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Isle, The - First Run Features Print E-mail
User Rating: / 4
Written by Ed Fir   
Saturday, 12 January 2008

AKA: Seom
Directed by: Kim Ki-Duk
Written by: Kim Ki-Duk
Produced by: Eun Lee
Cinematography by: Seo-shik Hwang
Editing by: Min-ho Kyeong
Music by: Sang-yun Jeon
Cast: Jung Suh, Yoosuk Kim, Sung-hee Park, Jae-hyeon Jo, Hang-Seon Jang
Year: 2001
Country: South Korea
Language: Korean (English Subtitles)
Color: Color
Runtime: 89 Minutes

ASPECT RATIO: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
AUDIO: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
Distributor: First Run Features

While there are many films that deal with the fragility of human emotion, and damaged people coming together, few of them have the conviction of "The Isle". Not only are the two leads severely damaged, but there is no solace for them at all. The final seconds of the film hammering home the point that while they have found each other, inside they will always be somehow less than whole.

The location chosen for the story is open, free, with lots of space. But turning our usual feelings for such a space on its head (space most often portrays freedom) here it's just a visual loneliness, and also, oppressive. Can you be confined in an open space? Watch “The Isle”.

Set upon a lake, where small boats with tiny homes built upon them are moored for fishermen, each morning starts with thick fog. These homes are empty, with no furniture, yet self-contained. This is almost medieval - a trap in the bottom of these homes is used for defecating, as people shit and piss into the very water they are fishing for food. The only contact with land is via boat, and there's only one. This is taken care of by a young woman. This woman rents out the homes, takes renters to them, takes out food and bait for fishing, and at night, she sells her body should anyone ask.

The sex in this film is either perfunctory (one guy takes a break from sex to pull a fish in, then resumes), or misguided. It's far from erotic, but then the story is told from the point of view of two desperately lonely and sad people, people who are unlikely to be touched. This is a film where the physical does the least amount of damage.

The film centers on the two leads, one male one female. The female character remains an enigma for the entire film. We can see the pain, we sense something terrible has happened to her beyond the obvious trauma of her current life, yet we never find out what it is. The male character is an ex-cop who has shot his girlfriend and is now on the run. This anchors him, strangely, as the more normal of the two. In fact, the film plays out as though the girl is somehow strange, and the man is quite normal. Quite an achievement given that he tries to commit suicide at least twice during the running time. Obviously the film plays with us a bit here. We can understand the feelings of a jealous man who kills his girlfriend for cheating (without condoning it), but this strange silent woman we simply cannot fathom.

On the surface this appears to be a film about two lovers meeting, however warped their psyche, however, when I consider it, there is little love in the film. Instead, they are simply two people at the end of the emotional line, self-aware of their own demise, but unable to simply take their own lives. So they cling to each other, both wanting to end it all, but neither with the strength to do so. Who wants to die alone, or to die with only the hurtful memories replaying in their souls?

Top-notch filmmaking here. The location lends itself to the spiritual, but it is aided by many long shots that illustrate the lakes expansiveness. A minimalist score, and a script - dialog wise - that could fit on a single sheet of paper, drives home the fear and pain of tranquility. With the lead female not uttering a single line, don't expect the clumsy mainstream "knowing looks" or glances. This film is about vacancy - and there's no need for over-zealous portrayals of emptiness. It just is empty.

I have heard some talk about "animal violence" in this film. As someone who has been vocal about this topic (against it), I should discuss it here. I honestly feel a bit silly lumping this film in with other guilty parties (“Cannibal Holocaust” etc), since the poetry of this film is legions above any other film I've seen associated with the term. Still, even taking it out of that pile, some of the animal material is hard to watch.

First up is the capture, killing (by banging it on a rock), and skinning of a frog for eating. The camera does not linger on any of this, but it's there. Later in the film, a man and a woman catch a fish, cut two huge slices of flesh from its flanks, and then throw it back into the water - where it survives and swims away. They eat the flesh (now that's fresh sushi!). Several other fish are hacked up, straight out of the water, later on. Finally, a bird - trapped in its cage - is thrown into the water. It sinks to the bottom, and we get a shot of it flapping its wings, trying to fly under water. None of it is very pleasant, and you have now been warned of the specifics of the issue.

The Isle” is such a wonderful film, I am saddened by the animal violence because it's just the sort of film I would like to recommend to my more mainstream friends to watch, as an introduction to the power of Asian cinema. With the animal segments though, I won't be doing that. Pity. As a metaphor for the emotional state of the central characters (as opposed to simply being in the film in order to provide "shocks") it does indeed have an impact. However, it has crossed the line for me. So I will confine recommendations to sites such as this.

The Isle” does just about everything right. The tone, the ambience, the performances, the relentless weight of its message, the desperation, the evil, the mental and emotional solitude, the fact there is sometimes no escape from oneself. It is never a light-hearted movie (I got one laugh from the film, and that comes in a scene where a man is pulling fish hooks out of a woman!) Watch when you have a clear head, and you can think your way out of its dark corners.

Symbolism in the film is rife, it's everywhere. From the fact that every time these two characters want to meet, it takes a great journey to achieve (the boat ride), to the atrocities each of them bring upon each other (the woman's around her sexual organs, the man around his throat - what he SAYS), to the portrayal of this place that is tranquil, and yes beautiful in the day, to the long lonely nights when all that can be seen are distant lights on the lake. Frankly, I could go on and on.

However, one blatant piece of symbolism comes when the man is removing those fish hooks from the woman. Laying down the five hooks, take a close look at the pattern he is making. First, there is a single hook. Then he lays two hooks together, entwined. Lastly, the final two hooks form a heart shape. Love? Perhaps some form of love - but there is no real redemption.

The Isle” then is a stunning film. Not a casual Saturday afternoon flick though. How mesmerizing was it? Well let me tell you this. I grabbed three beers from the fridge, thinking I would drink them while watching. By the time the film was over, I'd forgotten to open a single one. I didn't want to miss a single frame of this wonderful film. I'm not sure what it says about me that I had some kind of connection with these characters, or that in the very least I could empathize with them. Regardless, their journey is extreme, without feeling extreme, which is quite extraordinary. Recommended.


- Interviews with the director Kim Ki-duk
- Behind-the-scenes featurette
- Music video

VIDEO: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen 1 Skull - Severed Cinema1 Skull - Severed Cinema1 Skull - Severed Cinema1 Skull - Severed CinemaNo Skull - Severed Cinema
AUDIO: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo - Korean 1 Skull - Severed Cinema1 Skull - Severed Cinema1 Skull - Severed CinemaNo Skull - Severed CinemaNo Skull - Severed Cinema


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3.22 Copyright (C) 2007 Alain Georgette / Copyright (C) 2006 Frantisek Hliva. All rights reserved."

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