The Isle


"...a morbid, yet beautiful art-house film."

- Mighty Peking Man

The Isle (2000)

Director: Kim Ki-Duk

Producer: Lee Eun

Writer: Kim Ki-Duk

Cast: Seo Jeong, Kim Yu-seok, Park Seong-hee, Cho Jae-hyeon, Chang Hang-seon

Running Time: 100 min.

Plot: On an isolated fishing isle, a lonely woman and a former policeman are drawn into a destructive relationship with tragic consequences.

Availability: This title is available at


ALEXANDER'S REVIEW: The only thing that saved this exploitive and pretentious piece of trash from a 0/10 is the gorgeous cinematography. The people responsible for The Isle may not know how to engender audience sympathy, write dialogue, use lighting or tell a story, but they sure know how to film scenery.

Never has a leading actress had to do so little in a film to "earn" a paycheck than Seo Jeong. She's ocassionally mute, and other than being able to clench her teeth whilst skinning frogs and electrocuting fish, baring her breasts, manning a small motorboat and enduring repeated kicks to the crotch, Seo Jeong does little else but absorb abuse. Had I been able to muster an ounce of sympathy for her character I might have enjoyed The Isle. Movies are always better when we care about the people in them, after all. Even the character of crazed Eihi in Miike's Audition has a relatively well-developed backstory, and although we might ultimately despise her, we at least understand her motivations, however twisted they may be. Hee-jin's story, unfortunately, is told in a seconds-long scene of her looking pained at the sight of what is apparently her ex-lover's motorcycle. That's it. No rationale behind her want of the weirdo on the yellow float despite his violent attempt to rape her; no explanation behind the ease at which she kills or the intensity of her jealousy. For the most horrific scene in the film to resonate beyond being simply shocking, we NEED to know what drives her to that moment. (And despite her irrational and sometimes violent behavior  before she does this, NOTHING in the film suggests she is capable of doing something as vile and horrific as THAT. Incredibly, Miike's Eihi looks sane in comparison.) Otherwise, it's just sensationalistic, exploitative and pointless.

Much ado about nothing, you say? The entire film revolves around the unconventional "relationship" of Hee-jin and Hyun-sik. (He's just as fucked up as she is, by the way.) But because they're both psychotic assholes, there's no one or nothing to root for or care about. I wanted them both to just fucking die, by suicide, a blow to the head or from giant sharks devouring their floats. Anything, really, to spare ME any more pain. But what did I get for enduring two hours worth of animal maiming, sexual abuse and embarrassingly overt symbolism? An abrupt and clumsy existentialist ending that provided, at least, one laugh-out-loud moment in an otherwise grim and utterly pointless film.

ALEXANDER'S RATING: 2.5/10 (The lake is pretty!)

EQUINOX21'S REVIEW: Unsure of what to expect, I went into viewing The Isle with an open mind. I'm glad I did, because this is a movie you simply can't prepare yourself for. It was a slow moving film that emitted feelings of isolation, loneliness, jealousy, revenge and, most of all, strangeness.

Though the movie never specifically tells us the names of the characters, the central characters are Hee-jin (Seo Jeong, in my opinion, a Korean dead ringer for Faye Wong) and Hyun-shik (Kim Yu-seok). Hee-jin is silent the entire movie. She just goes about her business of boating customers out to little floating platforms with small huts on them for fishing outings. Along with carrying customers out to these platforms, Hee-jin's job includes ferrying guests of the customers (most often local prostitutes) out to them, cleaning and repairing the platforms, and even occasionally selling her body to the lonely fishermen. However, because it's such a secluded place, it is the perfect place for wanted men to hide out, which is what Hyun-shik is doing there. Slowly, Hee-jin and Hyun-shik fall for each other, and their mutual affection is solidified in a cringe-inducing scene the first of a few.

I absolutely loved the feel of this movie. As I mentioned, it moves very slowly, however, each scene is important in describing the characters' attitudes and establishing their backgrounds. The atmosphere builds from the secluded surroundings and the nigh constant grey sky. Also, this is an extremely quiet movie. It probably has the least amount of dialogue in any movie I've ever seen, however, the characters' actions speak volumes. A picture is, after all, worth a thousand words.

There were some truly strange scenes in this one. I can't explain it; I don't want to give it away as the impact of these scenes are part of the establishment of the feel for this movie. They're shocking, and in a way disturbing, but not to the point of being unwatchable. The last scene is one that you could talk about and analyze for hours.

This is a good movie, although very strange. The closest movie I can compare it to, as far as oddness, is Miike's Audition. You shouldn't miss this one, if only for having a truly interesting Asian cinema conversation piece.

EQUINOX21'S RATING: 9/10 (minus a point for this movie inflaming my animal rights sensibilities) 

MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S REVIEW: This movie freaked me out. Not in a jump-out-of-your seat way, but in a subtle "what the fuck?" sort of way. What attracted me to "The Isle" was it's trailer which I saw almost a year ago on one of my Universe discs. Now, anyone who has seen the trailer can only imagine what kind of film this is - it hints mysterious, dark, quiet, wicked, brutal, sexual...and it all takes place on a secluded fishing island. And now, a year later, I finally watched it -- talk about a trailer that lives up to the film in every single way! Written and directed by Kim Ki-Duk ("Bad Guy", "Real Fiction"), "The Isle" is a horrifying look into one of the strangest relationships I've ever seen. 

Meet a erratically mute woman named Hee-jin, the operator of a "fishing island" somewhere on the waters in a cul de sac-like lake/mountain atmosphere. The area she runs consists of a few floating rooms (a boat with a small house-like room that fits about two or three people), where the guests pay to stay and fish overnight, and sometimes by the hour. Yes, these floating fishing rooms are the perfect place for prostitution. Not only are there call-girls dropping into the fishermen leisure, but Hee-jin, in addition to running the isle and selling fishing tackle and food, also makes a buck or two selling herself at night. 

One day a mysterious man named Hyon-shik rents one of the floating rooms from Hee-jin. Hyon-shik is introduced as a fella with a sadistic past, and now, he has secluded himself from the world and has chosen the "fishing island" as the choice of place for suicide. At night time, while others are fishing or getting it on with whores, Hyon-shik is contemplating whether or not he should blow his head off. Each time he's about to, Hee-jin barges in and just glares at him. Hee-jin, who obviously has an eerie unexplained past as well, notices an instant connection with him and his grief; not to mention his tears and pain. 

When Hyon-shik notices affection from Hee-jin, he puts his current problems (and gun) aside. The two start to share friendly gestures, such as giving each other gifts, and gently smiling at each other from a distance. At one point, Hee-jin even sends a prostitute over to Hyon-shik to secure his sexual desires. As Hyon-shik and Hee-jin become closer, things start to get violently strange. 

This is where I stop writing about the plot for spoilers sake. 

This is also where I say that Kim Ki-Duk is officially on my list of cool directors. Not only (like numskull says in his "Real Fiction" review) can this guy create magic with a extreme low-budget, but his peculiar vision makes him one of the most talented film directors of our time. Just to have a little fun with words, think of Kim Ki-Duk as a combination of Wong Kar-Wai and Takashi Miike (in his more "Audition"-phase). 

"The Isle" is a morbid, yet beautiful art-house film. It's filled with painful visuals (such as a real fish swimming in water with it's sides torn off) and symbolic formalities that tickle our thought provoking minds. To top it off, it's one hell of a disturbing film that needs to be seen. And talk about an ending worth a thousand words. 

Highly recommended.