The Isle Review
Tartan Asia Extreme has some pretty unusual titles in its collection: Hard Boiled - which is extreme action, Audition - which is extreme horror, and Infernal Affairs - which is... just plain extremely good. The Isle really falls into the horror category, along the lines of Audition and is another example of some pretty devious minds at work (I mean, who on earth wrote Oldboy? Although amazing, it is simply perverse). I suppose that I should not be surprised, but when the opening few minutes of The Isle gives way to a man taking a dump off the side of a pier, even I raise an eyebrow.
Set around this mysterious and isolated fishing Isle, we follow the story of a young mute girl - Hee-Jin - who spends her days renting out floating homes to fishermen and selling whores to them as well, while at night she sells herself. But this young lady has a few demons of her own, and does not take lightly to being mistreated by her clients, adopting the approach of sneaking up to them while masked by the waves and killing them in nasty ways. She's a disturbed young lady, who finds little peace other than in her simpler, fishing-related activities. Eventually she befriends one of the guests at the floating shacks - having 'persuaded' him to reconsider his suicidal tendencies - and a bond is formed between them. But, as I said, Hee Jin is troubled - she even beats frogs to death and skins them to feed to her friend's bird - and you can just tell things are going to get bad before they turn good, if they ever do turn good.
Kim Ki-Duk, the director of the equally strange Bad Guy, has crafted another very moody affair, an atmosphere besieged by rain and depressing damp. Initially you might think that this is another cast of style over substance, but he slowly weaves an interesting tale of love and rejection, jealousy and hatred - reeling you in as if you were a fish on a hook. Although I don't recognise any of the cast, the female lead - Suh Jung - is strikingly beautiful (even if she has a pretty scary eye-brow thing going on) and she does extremely well in a role devoid of words. Playing opposite her we get Kim Yoo-Seok, as the troubled man running away from his own demons. There is also an important role for Jang Hahng-Sun, as an unfortunate young prostitute who sells herself to the men on the floats but also finds herself attracted - somewhat incredulously - to the suicidal Hyun-Shik. From an 'extreme' point of view, this is clearly a film without limits. Just when you least expect it, somebody will eat chunks of raw flesh out of a fish they just caught - or skin a toad - or even do some rather cringe-worthy things with fishing hooks. Ironically, though, one of the things I found really unnecessary was the overly frequent toilet activities that the characters get up to. It was just a little too much. That and perhaps a moment when a woman gets some particularly unsavoury treatment, which is something I really didn't have to see. But if you like your Asian 'horror' cinema extreme, then this is just for you. For once they are not wrong about comparing it to David Cronenberg's perverted Crash. It is basically quite an unusual low-budget moody piece telling yet another twisted tale of love with liberal use of shock-horror.