The Isle

on August 23, 2002 by Ed Scheid
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"The Isle" is a continually fascinating exploration of the physical and psychological pain and pleasure of a bizarre relationship. The setting is a remote fishing village. From the opening shots of mist on a lake, the South Korean film, directed and written by Kim Ki-Duk, is a series of hypnotic images. The remarkable cinematography of Whang Suh-Shik is a significant asset.

Small fishing cabins float on the lake. A young woman Hee-Jin silently delivers supplies by boat to the fishermen. She also brings out prostitutes and occasionally provides herself for sexual services. Hee-Jin remains mute throughout all of her encounters. She quietly plots revenge after being mistreated.

Hyun-Shik (Kim Yoo-Suk) moves into one of the floating fishing cabins. He and Hee-Jin develop a silent attraction. He is sensitive enough to make wire figurines for her, but he can also turn rough from desperation. When police arrive on the lake, Hyun-Shik furtively attempts suicide with his fish hooks, but Hee-Jin saves him.

The enigmatic performances of the two lead actors give "The Isle" an unremitting tension throughout the unpredictable relationship that combines affection, obsession and violence.

The impressive directorial style of Kim Ki-Duk is a series of forceful scenes with little dialogue. Close-ups emphasize the fierceness of the couple's behavior, as well as showing some sinister uses for fish hooks. The unconventional, gripping and mysterious story takes some startling turns. As a symbol of the extremes of the central relationship, the fish hooks that can cause death or bloody mutilation are turned together to form the human heart. Starring Suh Jung and Kim Yoo-Suk. Directed and written by Kim Ki-Duk. Produced by Lee Eun. An Empire release. Drama. Korean-language; subtitled. Running time: 89 min.

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