DIRECTED BY: Ki-duk Kim
FEATURING: Jung Suh, Yoosuk Kim
PLOT: A mute woman who runs a fishing resort becomes obsessed with a suicidal fugitive hiding out in one of the floating cabins.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It’s a bizarre, perverted sadomasochistic love story in a unique setting, made with skill and a few touches of surrealism.
COMMENTS: One of the most unique features of The Isle is the peculiar setting: a fishing resort on a picture-postcard lake dotted with one-room floating cabins for rent. Guests spend their days drinking beer, staring at the misty mountains in the distance, and fishing off their doorstep; while there they are almost completely dependent on the stunningly beautiful, mute proprietress, who ferries them back and forth to the shore and delivers bait, coffee, and prostitutes in her dinghy. (The hideaway appears to make more money off of escort services and wealthy men sailing their mistresses out to a bungalow for some floating hanky-panky than it does off of fishing). One day, the woman pilots a quiet, handsome man out to the yellow float; he catches her eye when she discovers that he is suicidal and has sailed out to the lake to work up the courage to bump himself off. This is the setup for a very odd romance that develops between two lovers with tormented pasts—backstories that are never fully explained but are hinted at by the obsessive fury with which they fall for each other and the self-loathing ferocity with which they mutilate themselves.
For a romantic drama, The Isle has a relatively high body count; but, despite a few horrific moments, no one will confuse this arthouse effort with a slasher. The tone is always straightforward and serious—even solemn—and this matter-of-fact treatment makes some of the bizarre occurrences near the end seem almost believable. The aquatic setting supplies a built-in metaphor for submerged meanings and hidden psychological depths, and beautifully murky underwater shots abound. Particularly lovely is a shot where Jung Suh, whose character moves above and below the waterline at will, peers down into the fathoms while her long jet black hair floats like seaweed behind her. Other strange and memorable moments include what is likely to be the most improbable and painfully gruesome suicide attempt you’ve ever seen, and a mysteriously surreal parting shot of a bushy island of green reeds. Evoking the mysterious power of mutually destructive attraction, The Isle is a movie that just might get its hooks in you—although hopefully not as literally as it gets its hooks inside its characters.
Fair warning to animal lovers: it does not appear that the Korean chapter of PETA was allowed on set for this shoot, as violence against vertebrates is a running theme in the film. The Isle features a frog skinned and pulled apart, sushi made and eaten from a living fish as it flops around, a drowned bird, and a dog choked by a leash and struck. Although some of the cruelty is faked, some of it clearly is not.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…a thoroughly original item that adds further fuel to South Korea’s recent rep for sexually themed offbeaters.”–Derek Elley, Variety (contemporaneous)
(This movie was nominated for review by “Spass.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)
One thought on “LIST CANDIDATE: THE ISLE [SEOM] (2000)”
I am very glad I picked this movie. I love that the main character is mute and has to express her emotions in other ways such as murdering or self mutilation. It is slow, not action packed, but well worth watching alone. I am excited to see what other movies I find from this website. Oh, and it’s on streaming netflix which makes it even more appealing 🙂