THE ISLE (Unrated, 89 minutes)
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. Includes murder, self-mutilation, cruelty to small animals, nudity, and sexual and execratory activities. Visions Bar Noir.
-- Mark Jenkins
LANA'S RAIN (Unrated, 107 minutes)
I'm not one to get all worked up about Web reviews of current movies, but the headline above a posting on the Internet Movie Database about "Lana's Rain" caught my eye. "Great idea, terrible execution," it read. The anonymous critic, as it turns out, is half right about this abysmally bad Chicago-set drama concerning brother-and-sister refugees from war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina in the mid-1990s. The writer is, however, mistaken about this story of a man (Nikolai Stoilov) who forces his little sister (Oksana Orlenko) into prostitution being a great idea. Ripped from the headlines, maybe, but evidence of inspiration? Hardly. That's because, along with taking its cue from actual news reports about transplanted Eastern European mobsters running American sex-slave rings, first-time feature director and writer Michael S. Ojeda's film also tears off more than a few pulpy pages from the dime-novel canon -- along with scraps of miscellaneous Harlequin romances and other lurid, melodramatic fare. From Stoilov's black eye patch, cruel sneer and animal-print sports coat to Orlenko's look of the helpless kitten and her character's poignant if doomed love affair with a sensitive-to-the-point-of-spineless sculptor (Luoyong Wang), "Lana's Rain" borders on the so-bad-it's-good broadness of "Mommie Dearest." Clumsily under-written and feverishly overacted, it's as embarrassing to watch as it is perplexing, especially considering that it's being shown at Visions Bar Noir, an art house that should know better. From the opening voice-over narration, it's clear that "Lana's Rain" wants to be taken seriously. "One would think," Lana (Orlenko) intones, "if you traveled across the ocean to escape a land plagued by war, you couldn't smell the rotting flesh or hear the cries of innocent people led to slaughter. But you can." I got news for you, baby. That smell isn't rotting flesh, and as for those cries of innocent people, they're coming from the audience. Contains obscenity, violence, nudity and a sex scene. In English and Croatian with subtitles. At Visions Bar Noir.
-- Michael O'Sullivan
VALENTIN (PG-13, 87 minutes)
Set in the late 1960s, Alejandro Agresti's film has one unmistakable centerpiece: Child actor Rodrigo Noya. As the 8-year-old Valentin, who lives with his grandmother (Carmen Maura) in Buenos Aires, he's a dynamo. (To this W.C. Fields-spirited reviewer he's so precocious, it's obnoxious. The kid chews up the scenery like a baby T-Rex, egged on, no doubt, by director Agresti. In fact, with his big glasses and equally large swagger, he suggests the devil spawn of Austin Powers. But many others will enjoy him as merely charming and an integral part of the picture.) Noya has one burning wish: to be back with his mother, who is separated from Valentin's abusive, unnamed father (played by Agresti), who uses him like a chick magnet. One of those women, Leticia (Julieta Cardinali), becomes Valentin's friend. The seemingly plotless film pretty much revolves around Valentin as a constantly-arguing-but-life-affirming presence in everyone's life. If you feel the same way about the child actor, you stand to be quite charmed. Contains intense thematic elements and some obscenity. In Spanish with subtitles. At the Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle and Landmark's Bethesda Row.
-- Desson Thomson