Art house films is a part of the whole spectrum of movies that I don’t care for to be honest. It’s pretty obvious by the movies I choose to see. The challenge of seeing such a film is not a turn off, but the absent of substance I tend to find is. Art house cinema, unlike everything else related to movies I encounter, is the likeliest home of some of the most shallow piece of filmmaking that I can find. In particular, the smugness of these filmmakers that become present in their work thinking they made something deeper than it actually is. With this kind of mentality being equally common in art house cinema as the thought-provoking films that stick with you I’m happy engaging in it as little as I do. Preventing viewing experience like the one I had with The Isle from being a frequent thing.
The Isle is about mute Hee-jin (Suh Jung), who operates a fishing resort, forming an unlikely bond with shady customer Hyun-shik (Kim Yu-seok). What little there is too the story is underwhelming. This is one of those art house movies that pad out their runtime by showing you every single action of their character not related to the story. Typically, it would be characters walking long distances, but this case its seeing Suh Jung drive people, or herself in a boat around the fishing resort. Things that take up minutes of screen time with little substantive dialogue to connect a theme, or a message of any sort. Being more damaging in this movie since entertainment is not a focus of the film. There’s also numerous occasions of seeing people do random activities at the fishing resorts whether it be seeing them poop on the resort, or attempting suicide. It’s the mundane atmosphere of nothing visually exciting happening that make the “shocking” scenes “hard” to watch. It’s easier to be shocked by something when the film has nothing happening in terms of story.
Characters simply go through the motion of events, and are more about displaying abstract ideas with nothing concrete to center the characters. One can ponder why a woman would shove a several fishing hooks up her vagina, but one can also be bored by such a sight when the only thing gather about its characters are abstract. Same with the abstract characteristic thag Hee-jin becoming possessive when saving a suicidal man’s life. Maybe Hee-jin is possessive, but with little foundation to her as a character she could also simply be a woman overstepping her boundary in preventing a suicidal man from taking his own life. Either of these notions could be correct. By doing so, it would defeat the movie intentions when simply throwing non-correlating interpretation at it, but when there’s no foundation for characters to connect to themes anything goes.
Hyun-shik character best gets across the clumsy writing of the movie. His shady background once reveal involves him being a wanted man, along with the brief details of the crime committed. By the way the story is written this revelation is just mundane. By choosing to remove raising action, and the essence of conflict from the writing everything seems equally dull. It’s not the intention of the film to portray such events, or people as dull. Rather it has something to say about the human state of suffering, and the way different ways people communicate is more sincere, even if against the familiarity one is use too. I know, that’s quite a mouthful of a sentence. In the movie itself, it doesn’t come off that way. Unlike great art house movies, you’ll won’t find working pieces that connect everything together. It has substance, but it’s all over the place that’s more than likely to leave your pondering what was the point than being provoked by it.
Actress Suh Jung despite playing a mute delivers a fantastic performance. Conveying an arrange of emotion, and inner turmoil of her character through her body language. Bringing to life a tragic character of its own kind rare to be seen in films. Taking pleasure in portraying the more sadistic side of her character, and improving the movie with her presence. She might lack any memorable lines of dialogue to speak, but when she’s as good as she is there’s no need for it. Aside from the cinematography from Seo-shik Hwang, Suh Jung is practically the only thing the movie has going for it.
Actor Kim Yu-seok whom plays Hyun-shik does well in portraying a lost soul, wandering soul. Awkward, sincere, and crazy are the impressions he’ll give you with his performance. When it comes to his acting he best shines with Suh Jung whom together create a strange onscreen couple. One’s that is odd as it is fascinating, and a bit charming when fish hooks, or knives aren’t around. Much like Suh Jung, Kim Yu-seok is also able convey the same inner turmoil of his character to similar success. There are other actors in the movie whom do adequately in their roles, but Suh Jung, and Kim Yu-seok are the only actors with substantial material to dig into.
Director Kim Ki-duk (whom also wrote the movie) creates a visually alluring film that is absorbing. Almost dreamlike with the mist covering the water resort to add to its surreal mood. Using a wide variety of camera angles to show its beauty, setting the atmosphere accordingly enveloping the viewer into a trance with the calm mist, and smoke above the water to put them in a trance. Consisting of primarily long takes to provide the viewer more than enough time to absorb everything in, and out of this fishing resort. It’s easily an alluring movie displaying beauty in the mundane. Granted, when the “disturbing” scenes came around I wasn’t grossed out by them, but with fantastic dreamlike cinematography I can’t anyone who found the grotesque moments hard to watch.
The Isle is a visually absorbing movie with a fantastic performance by Suh Jung, but that’s about its only outstanding features. With a emphasis on minimalist storytelling, and acting it’s one of those up to interpretation type of art house movies. Why it doesn’t work is simple, it doesn’t center the substance, or themes to anything concrete to cohesively connect the dots. It won’t provide much to think about when it comes to themes, characters, or interpretations. Instead, all you will remember are certain scenes that might make your stomach turn.