As a lonely clerk at a fishing resort, the beautiful but silent Hee-Jin takes care of anything that the customers might need such as equipment. Most of all, she takes them out to the small floating houses where customers often spend their time calling in prostitutes, and sometimes with her as well.
It's not too rare that I have mixed feelings about a movie that I'm reviewing, God knows I've said it many times. But with "The Isle" it's different. Only a few movies give me mixed feelings in this way, and the most recent I can think of that did that was "Andrei Rublev". Does anyone know what I'm getting at? What we have is a great movie, but with certain scenes involving animals that really lowers the experience and respect you have for the movie. More on that later.
"The Isle" all takes place around a fishing resort surrounded by small floating homes/houses. It's a popular place among fishermen, but not only because they can catch good fish, but because they can escape reality for a while. And enjoy themselves with women - often prostitutes. Hee-Jin, the clerk at the resort, doesn't speak, and in her silence she acts as a spectator of what happens in all the houses. She takes customers out to the houses with her boat, which seems to be her main job. But occasionally she gets involved with the customers, and such is the case with one particular customer. The movie has up until this point shown some mystery and darkness, clearly proving that Hee-Jin is an odd girl, but it's not until this new customer, Hyun-Shik, arrives that we see exactly in which way. Both of them suffer from being lonely and confused, and they build a dependency (or desperation) on each other.
That's essentially what the movie is to me: being completely lost, broken and confused, yet you find someone or something that you can lean against. In this movie the two sexes are in focus, not only from our leads, but every fisherman goes to the resort to be with a woman. Either they bring them there from the start, or they order them to come there. I really got into this movie, it's provokes emotion and certainly gets your mind working. There's also a beautiful visual language that can't be denied: a little touch like the thick fog on the lake at night really makes or breaks certain scenes. The finale is a small jump away from the relatively realistic drama we've witnessed, much more surreal, but because the movie still has been dreamlike from the start it seems to work perfectly.
Obviously a movie right up my alley - sad/emotional, twisted, dreamlike, perverted and artistic. Except for one major part of the movie, which really bugs me. It's filled with pointless animal cruelty. From a scene involving a dog that was way harsher than it should be (but to its credit, it COULD have been faked with a trained dog, I don't know), and to downright senseless killing. It doesn't matter that these animals are small, like a frog, fish or bird. It might add to the movie in a way, but it should be faked. I don't think I am hypocritical, I love meat and if I know the animals are killed without cruelty and are eaten in the film then I am okay with it. But here we have a scene of tearing apart a frog by their hands, cutting a piece off of a live fish and eating that piece but putting the fish back in the water, completely butchering live fish into bits and pieces, and finally throwing a bird cage in the water and film it as it goes down with the bird in it. Even a devastating shot of the bird flapping its wings under the water. It's just not needed. I can see having scenes of animals in a film for a reason, but fake it. It's fiction, after all. This really angers me, and it's hard to know how to react when you love everything about the movie except for this. And "this" is a big thing to dislike. It annoys me when films continue to do this.
Examples of fictious brutality also occurs in the movie, and it really works. You don't have to drown a bird to get a reaction out of me - you could have tricked it. Like in the scene where Hyun-Shik swallows several fish hooks on a fishing line and starts pulling it - it's hard not to feel it in your throat. And just as much when Hee-Jin inserts the same hooks into her vagina. Non-graphic, but still powerful. THAT'S how you make a movie.
It's hard for me to write a good closing paragraph for "The Isle". The movie itself is fantastic. I'm deeply fascinated by it. But there is no denying the senseless animal cruelty, which drags the movie and its director down a lot. I understand cultural differences, but there is nothing cultural about what they do here. As I said earlier, animals as food is different. I understand cultural differences when it comes to food. This is not that, though.