THE ISLE Image

THE ISLE

By Eric Campos | May 13, 2003

Like the Japanese film Audition a few months back, this atmospheric Korean drama crosses several gruesome borders as it tells a simple love story. The film is virtually wordless, with expressions and actions carrying us through … even when we don’t want to go any further. Set on a remote river, a small fishing hotel caters to those who want to get away from society. The rooms are floating cabins dotted around the water and tended to by the proprietor Hee-Jin (Suh), who supplements her income by catering to the more personal needs of her clientele … in direct competition with the local brothel. Soon Hee-Jin is obsessed with the tenant in the yellow cabin, Hyun Shik (Kim). He’s running from some violent past and is soon interested in her as well. But their tender romance will not travel down expected pathways … no, it will involve intrigue, suspicion, jealousy, violence and even death.
The evocative imagery and gentle, lapping rhythms of this film are infectious–it gets under our skin and draws us in long before the plot kicks into gear. It also makes us think about issues of attraction and isolation, even as it offends virtually every sense with its continual grisliness and repetitive imagery of pain and mutilation. There’s no Humane Society logo here; fish, frogs and birds are all killed on screen, often in brutal ways. The damage to the human characters is even worse; although at least it isn’t quite as explicit, it’s much more horrific. But the increasingly creepy plot is counter balanced by a genuinely tender romance, which makes the film impossible to categorise, and will no doubt limit it to obscure arthouses and cinephiles who have very strong stomachs. They won’t be disappointed.

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