'Spring, Summer's' Shocking Sibling
By Mark Jenkins
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, May 21, 2004; Page WE49
Anyone who has seen Korean director Kim Ki-duk's lovely "Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall . . . and Spring" (which opened two weeks ago) will quickly recognize the same filmmaker's "The Isle" as that film's scruffier, nastier cousin. Made two years before "Spring, Summer," "The Isle" features a similar location and analogous characters. But where the newer movie is a mostly serene parable of renewal, placing violence and death in the natural order, its predecessor takes a considerably less transcendental approach.
Both films are set on and around a lake, but "The Isle" depicts shabby fishing huts rather than the later film's floating Buddhist temple and features a feral mute woman instead of a benign monk. The enigmatic Hee-Jin (Seo Jeong) oversees the remote fishing camp, which seems to draw mostly men in search of casual sex -- some of whom Hee-Jin satisfies, for a price -- and fugitives from the law. Lurid flashbacks suggest that new arrival Hyun-Sik (Kim Yu-Seok) is in the second category. Soon after Hyun-Sik arrives, he and Hee-Jin begin a grim, violent affair. She sometimes resists, yet is clearly obsessed with the newcomer, who seems less interested in her than in his own death. While she disposes of possible rivals, he repeatedly places a gun to his temple. When the cops arrive, he makes a gruesome attempt on his life, one of two sequences involving fish hooks and human flesh. (These, presumably, are the scenes that caused the now-legendary fainting and fleeing during the movie's early screenings.)
Visions Cinema is presenting "The Isle" as the first in a series of "Truly Shocking" movies, and the implications of the film's grisly moments are unquestionably disturbing. Still, most Hollywood slasher movies are more explicitly violent than "The Isle," and their bloodletting is more gratuitous. As in "Spring, Summer," Kim subjects both humans and animals to torture and death, but his intent is not to glamorize such acts. Rather, he seems to be suggesting that all assaults on living creatures are morally equivalent, and that the world absorbs such brutalities into a larger design.
"The Isle" is absolutely not for the easily shocked, even Kim's admirers may think it goes too far. Still, "Spring, Summer" fans should only have their appreciation of that film expanded by seeing this rougher take on similar themes.
THE ISLE (Unrated, 89 minutes) --Includes murder, self-mutilation, cruelty to small animals, nudity, and sexual and execratory activities. Visions Bar Noir.
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