I enjoy watching films where no one says anything and various characters are mute or have a few appendages too many or too short – or someone is whispering the whole time or someone is wailing the whole time or someone is someone’s long lost brother. So I thought I was in total luck then as The Isle (2000), a South Korean film written and directed by Kim Ki-duk has all of those things in spades! However, throw in some mellow dramatic genital mutilation, bad acting, floating rag-tag cabanas and about 50 unconscionable wrong turns (and did I mention the genital mutilation) and you have a patchwork piece that took me 5 sittings to get through.
Perchance the director, in attempting to channel The Piano or The Piano Teacher, thought that angry young women, who may or may not happen to be mute, must always be uber sexualized and sexually distraught. They must be a hairsbreadth away from chopping off their own limb. The must delve into the bowels of forlornness and hair pulling and long episodes of staring into the mirror. I mean we all know this. It’s filmology 101. Right next to filmology 102 where they teach you how to put the explosions and the ninjas into your plot real ‘nice-like’.
Hee-jin, the mute, ferries her fishing “resort” customers back and forth in her patched up little dinghy. She toils lovingly over her ram shackle floating cabanas and stares idylly as she rows various call girls hither and thither to various rainbow hued cabanas, fat mid-level corporate types shiny and drunk and waiting. Sure she also moonlights and does some servicing of these men after hours as well. She’s a working girl after all. The thing is, as the director thunderously points out, Hee-jin just wants love. You know what I mean? And she attempts to get it..in increasingly unconscionable ways and means. This kind of subject matter is usually fascinating to me and I wondered why it wasn’t here. And then I realized that it was because the film, in mid-discourse, took a turn from stark analytical depiction to overly fluffy melodrama. When you get annoyed with a girl who can’t even speak, that says something.
The good points of this film – and there were a few – was the interesting depiction of the floating cabanas as character device. The yellow one was where she liked to go to take care of whatever man she was thinking about kidnapping. The green one was for whatever person she was getting ready to kill. The purple one was for having sex. It was all handily color coded, wrapped in a bow and framed with misty mountains. That is the nicest thing I can say about this film so I will stop there. See it if you enjoy rolling your eyes and covering them at the same time.