Seom aka The Isle is written and directed by Korean film maker Ki-duk Kim. This bizarre film tells about happenings in strange fishing resort in which fishermen live and fish in floating cabins at daytime, and have fun and sex with local prostitutes at night time. The film’s protagonist is an attractive, but very mysterious female (Suh Jung) who never talks, and works as some kind of “boat girl” who gets the food and prostitutes for the fishermen and other similar activities with her little boat. There is minimal amount of dialogue in The Isle, and it is hard to describe this ultra bizarre film after just one viewing.
The visuals are very astonishing and stunning as the settings are so atmospheric and natural. The calm mist and smoke above the water is very moody and even surreal, and this all is intensified even further by great use of camera, occasionally very weird angles and total feel of peace and magic. Blue is the main color in the film, and it is equally brilliant-looking as in many Hong Kong thrillers like Dr. Lamb by Danny Lee and Red to Kill by Billy Tang. The colors are always fantastic in Asian films, and The Isle once again proves and shows this. This film is a delight to the eye..at least before the infamous scenes involving fishing hooks.
The director has said that he wanted to depict relationships between men and women with this film, and that the film tells something about how dependent were are on each other, and especially on another sex. Once the first horrific “hook scene” comes, the only cure for his pain is the main female, who by giving him carnal pleasure, takes away or diminishes his pain – and vice versa later in the film. I think that this film is more feminist since the very surreal closing scene is so underlining as the man finally finds the “truth” and source of all life. Another reviewer thought that the end scene is gratuitous and only there to confuse things even further, and that may be the case, but still I want to interpret it as above, and it is very personal scene in depicting that eternal truth. Seeing is believing…
I think there’s lot more than just this in the core of The Isle. The film really tells something about the relationship between humans and nature and nature’s sources. There are many scenes depicting man exploiting nature and its inhabitants, and I think that the forthcoming scenes of mutilation are also symbolic as things turn upside down: humans become the victims of what they have practised and see the results. At this point, it is necessary to stress that there are many scenes of actual killing and off putting abuse of animals (mainly fish) which I, also, think are gratuitous since the message of the film is pretty hard to take since the film does the same exploitations it depicts committed by its characters. Then again, the killings show the real face of our world, since in order to stay alive, we have to use nature’s resources and there’s nothing wrong in that. So what’s wrong in my opinion is that the animals in The Isle are not killed without pain and suffering, and that is not right nor human since I think that no living creature should die painfully or tortured. I wanted to think that the animals were not mutilated and killed in the film for real, but it all looks sadly too real. Still, I have to find the film’s merits even though it becomes far more difficult when I remember these “animal snuff” scenes, that are unnecessarily explicit, albeit meant to be symbolic, which they of course are, if one can still accept this after the horrific imagery.
This film reminded me pretty much of Japanese film Naked Blood, which also is very beautiful and surreal film, but soon the horrific scenes of self mutilation and ultra splatter are on screen before the viewer’s eyes. The self mutilations committed by fish hooks in The Isle are very gruelling to say the least, so this film will make the weakest viewers faint, as many festival screenings have proven. They are so sickeningly effective I wanted to stop thinking about what it would feel like to actually do something like that. Fish hooks are very small, but like Stuart Gordon has said (about the finger biting moment in Re-Animator), the smallest things may be the most horrific in many cases. These fish hooks really are symbolic as the humans are “turned to fishes” and get to see what they’ve done and created.
The Isle is very weird, bizarre, calm and also disturbing piece of cinema, and only minority of cinema lovers will stomach and appreciate films like The Isle. As I stressed earlier, I am sorry about the fact of animal mutilation presented in the film, and without those scenes, I would probably give more stars in the rating. Now it gets little less even if I wanted to give it more as a piece of art. 8/10 and to understand more about this film, it has to be seen many times since it unfolds pretty slowly.
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