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The Isle
The Isle
Actors: Jung Suh, Yoosuk Kim, Sung-hee Park, Jae-hyeon Jo, Hang-Seon Jang
Director: Ki-duk Kim (II)
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
UR     2003     1hr 29min

THE ISLE mixes erotica and art in the tradition of classic Asian art house horror films like AUDITION, CURE and Hideo Nakata's THE RING, as well as NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and THE EXORCIST, all films full of sex, blood, m...  more »


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Actors: Jung Suh, Yoosuk Kim, Sung-hee Park, Jae-hyeon Jo, Hang-Seon Jang
Director: Ki-duk Kim (II)
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: First Run Features
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 05/20/2003
Original Release Date: 01/01/2001
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2001
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 1hr 29min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 14
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: Korean
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

Reflective, Visually Beautiful, and Torturously Painful...
Kim Anehall | Chicago, IL USA | 12/30/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The fish in the sea live to find food for survival, reproduce to maintain the species, and avoid deadly encounters while traveling, sleeping, and defecating. The strong maintain the species through alienating, or killing the weak as they are perceived as a threat to the survival of the group. These notions, heavily reflected by Darwinism, are also the basic idea of human existence by which many people live as they go about their daily habits. However, these basic needs for maintaining the human race do not reflect on how emotions can color and bring texture to what otherwise could be a dull gray existence. For example, humans feel ecstatic as they make love, people feel pain when something penetrates their skin and enters the flesh, and people have happy memories of pleasant smells of good food as it brings to mind moments of comfortable survival. These feelings of ecstasy, pain, and happiness among many more feelings are present in order to encourage behavior that will keep the individual and the species alive much like Pavlov's dogs salivated when they heard the bell prior to each meal that was served. In the Isle a bell rings whenever a fish is on the hook.

The Isle begins with a man, Hyun-Shik (Yoosuk Kim), that arrives to a remote lake, possibly connected to the ocean, with what seems to be all of his belongings. A birdcage with a bird is among the items that Hyun-Shik brought, which has a symbolic meaning as he removes himself from land by renting a small hut floating on a raft. There is no connection with land, except by a woman and her old boat, but it seems to be what Hyun-Shik seeks as he begins to dwell on his wrongdoings that led him to seek shelter at this remote location. In deep contemplation and agony Hyun-Shik considers to commit suicide as he has apparently killed someone of importance in a moment of vengeance. It becomes an overwhelmingly internal struggle for Hyun-Shik whether to pull the trigger, or not, as he weeps out his anguish.

The other main character is an emotionless woman, Hee-Jin (Jung Suh), who watches over the lake and the inhabitants of the many huts that she rents out. In many ways Hee-Jin behaves like a fish as she nurtures her visitors as if they were her babies. She brings them food and frequently ventures to the cabins at night to give herself to the visiting men. There is no emotional connection for Hee-Jin with the men, it merely seems to be something she does for some unknown reason as she does not say anything, or ask for anything in return. However, one of the men that Hee-Jin copulated with insults her by throwing money in the lake, which is an analogy that expresses the man's way of displaying how it was a waste of time and effort. In anger Hee-Jin acts out in the middle of the night while the man who offended her is about to make a nightly toilet visit into the lake.

When a person is aware that he or she cannot experience compassion, feelings, or emotions it becomes a quest to conquer what most people find to be an ordinary experience in order to remain strong. Hee-Jin discovers Hyun-Shik suicidal and weeping in a pathetic display, yet she feels something, which she cannot define. Hee-Jin begins to explore what she felt by killing frogs and fish, which she attempts to feed to Hyun-Shik's bird. In loneliness Hee-Jin drinks alcohol without effect as she approaches Hyun-Shik with the bottle, which the man presumes to be a sexual invitation. As a result, Hee-Jin hits Hyun-Shik and returns to land as she insults him by hiring a prostitute for him, but she discovers something called envy. This leads the unbalanced couple into an eye wrenching display of bizarre self-disfigurement as they strive to remain within a tormenting relationship that is embedded in pain and suffering when Hyun-Shik seeks distance.

The director, Ki-duk Kim, portrays Hee-Jin and Hyun-Shik in an internal struggle where the affection for one another expands as they discover more about each other through gut wrenching scenes. The artistic background of Kim is evident as the Isle becomes a stunningly beautiful film to view as several scenes depict skilled framing of each scene. It should be mentioned that Kim's later films Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring (2003) and Samaria (2004) display his visual cunning as they also offer the audience visual analogies that are planted within the film for the audience to ponder. Some of these seeds that Kim sows within the visuals of the Isle display several notions that should be be reflected upon such as existentialism, Darwinism, moral issues, and emotions. Kim succeeds efficiently to grasp the audience and force them to ponder, as the film leaves most of what is depicted to the audience's own interpretation."
Jeffrey Leach | Omaha, NE USA | 01/04/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Thanks to the recent boom in Asian horror films and their American remakes, specifically films like "The Ring" and "The Grudge," we are starting to see movies from other countries in that region. Exhibit A is the South Korean film "The Isle." Before watching this film I didn't even think South Korea made films let alone distributed them beyond their borders. The words "South Korea" conjure up memories of "M*A*S*H*" and the Korean War, the demilitarized zone and Kim Jong-Il. What those words do not bring to mind is cinema. But here's a movie, and a pretty disturbing one at that, which easily compares with the grotesqueries coming out of Japan and Hong Kong. Compares, that is, not in a particularly gory way but in the emotionally and psychologically devastating way one usually sees in a Takashi Miike picture. In fact, I began mentally comparing "The Isle" with Miike's "Visitor Q" and "Audition" due to what I saw as a similarity in themes dealing with the inability of people to connect with one another in healthy ways. What the heck is going on over in Asia that gives birth to film after film loaded with alienation and damaged human beings?

"The Isle" wallows in enigmatic symbolism and bleak images. The entire picture revolves around an isolated lake up in the mountains where people go to fish. A very attractive mute young lady, Hee-Jin (Jung Suh), works as the caretaker of the lake, a job that entails renting little colored floating cabins to guests and supplying said cabins with whatever the visitors need. In some cases, the men on these little getaways require quite a bit from Hee-Jin, a requirement that she readily acquiesces to for the right price. She's not without a vindictive streak, however, and will punish anyone who mistreats her by tipping them into the water or through other mean-spirited tricks. Hardly a mean thing to do, really, unless you cannot swim, which is what happens to one jerk when he fails to do right by Hee-Jin. Actually, most of the people visiting the lake are jerks of one sort or another. Even the harridans and their violent employer, who show up at the water's edge from time to time at the request of a guest, are decidedly unfriendly. Most of the film focuses on Hee-Jin's seemingly mundane daily activities and the people who visit the lake. Everything changes when a depressed loner by the name of Hyun-Shik arrives on the scene. He rents a floating cabin and stays there much longer than anyone else does, and it's obvious he isn't that interested in fishing. The stranger piques Hee-Jin's interest.

Through a few quick flashbacks, the movie reveals that Hyun-Shik is actually a man on the run, a fugitive from the law for a crime he committed prior to arriving at the lake. In his other life he was a police officer, but he was also an extremely jealous, possessive man who killed his significant other. During his tenure on the water, Hyun-Shik generally keeps to himself until Hee-Jin gradually intrudes on his life. She introduces him to the wonders of fishing and rescues him after the police turn up at the lake looking for fugitives. In an effort to escape the long arm of the law, and since he's trapped on a float in the middle of a lake with no means to reach the shore, Hyun Shik swallows a bundle of fishhooks in an effort to escape incarceration. He needn't have gone to such extremes, however, as the police find another man to arrest and leave. Oops. Talk about an overreaction of a lifetime! Fortunately, Hee-Jin powers up in her little boat and nurses the ex-police officer back to health. The two then strike up a tempestuous relationship that leads to murder, Hee-Jin's own encounter with fishhooks, and a truly enigmatic conclusion that left me scratching my head in confusion.

I spent more time paying attention to the atmosphere of the film than I did trying to decipher the characters' motivations. The lake is a grim, brooding body of water located in the middle of nowhere, often shrouded with fog and haze. The little floating cabins and a few of the people who come to stay for a few days represent the only real color seen in the film. What does that mean? Well, perhaps it hints at the nature of Hee-Jin's and Hyun-Shik's self-imposed isolation from the rest of the world. More interesting is the symbolism of the fishhook atrocities, a particularly interesting symbolism seeing as how it is tied to the purpose of those who come to the lake. The customers stay to catch fish, but Hee-Jin and Hyun-Shik catch each other by using emotional pain as bait. Each responds to the other more directly after the hooks dig into the other's flesh, realizing that they are both similar in outlook and nature. That their relationship results in the taking of a life shouldn't be too surprising considering how damaged both of these people are. "The Isle" means something like that--I don't know. My experience with films like this tells me that those viewers without knowledge of the culture in question (re: me) probably won't grasp the finer points of the plot.

The DVD version of "The Isle" includes a music video, a making of featurette, interviews with the cast and the director, a trailer, and trailers for "Tuvalu," "Merci Pour Le Chocolat," and "The Trial of Henry Kissinger." Although I am sure I missed a lot of what the movie tried to achieve, one cannot deny the beauty of this film. It's highly unlikely an American studio will remake this depressing picture, though; they like material with a lot of flash and fire, which makes "The Isle" far too subtle for their tastes.

Places Where Fishhooks were Never Meant to Go
Daitokuji31 | Black Glass | 03/05/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

On a small island the mute Hee-Jin supports herself by operating an odd fishing site in which small houses are constructed on rafts. To aid her patrons Hee-Jin paddles out in a small boat and sells such things as bait and coffee to the fishermen. Besides the mundane items, Hee-Jin also sells her body to the fishermen who seem to consider her little more than part of the fishing tour package. Besides selling her own body, Hee-Jin also transports prostitutes in her rickety motorboat to her patrons. Remaining completely silent, Hee-Jin lives out her days in this dreary manner.

One day, however, a new patron arrives. Carrying only a couple of bags and his pet bird, Hyun-shik rents the yellow raft and spends his time in solitude. Haunted by his past actions, Hyun-shik plans to kill himself, but he cannot find the gall to do so. Miserable in his existence, Hyun-shik bursts out crying and unbeknownst to him Hee-Jin watches him at his most vulnerable. Moved by this spectacle of emotion, Hee-Jin does her best to attract Hyun-shik in her silent way until one rainy day she rows her boat over to the yellow raft and offers herself to Hyun-shik. However, instead of trying to make love to her, Hyun-shik rips off Hee-Jin's clothes and attempts to rape her. A strong woman, Hee-Jin is able to force off Hyun-shik and escape. This attack, however, does not mean Hee-Jin has given up on Hyun-shik.

After a young prostitute becomes attracted to Hyun-shik because of his quiet nature, Hee-Jin becomes increasingly violent which is aimed at first at animals and later towards other people. However, it seems that Hee-Jin has a history of violence herself and is not afraid to use it if it gains what she wants.

Infamous for its scenes in which fishhooks are put in places fishhooks are not meant to be and its scenes of animal cruelty towards birds, frogs, fish, and dogs, The Isle is a silent and slightly disturbing film. With almost no dialogue, Kim Ki-duk creates an atmosphere that is quite intense. The scenes between Hee-Jin and Hyun-shik are simultaneously frightening for possibility of violence and quite tender. There is one scene in which Hyun-shik fans Hee-Jin that must be seen to be believed.

Stunning, Erotic and Surreal; Jung Suh amazes and seduces...
Woopak | Where Dark Asian Knights Dwell | 07/13/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

"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.

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".


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.