Sunday, April 12, 2009

World Movie Series - 17 - Seom


There is nothing complicated in this world more than the man-woman relationship. Every one of us would have at least experienced this a hundred times. Misunderstanding. There are many reasons behind the problems occurring in relationships. If we go on analyzing the reasons, we will get to a point where the fundamental reason for everything is insecurity. The fear of insecurity makes us to act wild. When we have a man/woman with us, we feel secured and confident, and if we lose them, then timidity grabs us by our throat and the same person who was a good person becomes the opposite (at least in his mind) until he gets back his long lost refuge. At times, the refuge might turn to be awry. As I said, there are too many problems.

What will happen if two lonely people find each other as their refuge, and what if their relationship tends to break in a place which has very few living beings? The Isle provides the answer.

Before going in to the movie, let me tell you that it indeed contains certain material which is inappropriate for some audiences. The kind of audience who are fond of sunshine and rainbows might dislike this film. This movie is one of the most disliked films in movie history. During the screening in film festivals, people have been passing out or vomiting or walking out. I will give my own views about those scenes when I describe about them.

The opening of the film is a brilliant shot, and it fades in on the spectacular blue water, with the secluded floating cottages located on the water. We see Hee-Jin, the lonely boat operator of the resort, fetching things for the customers who stay at the floating cottages. She acts as a courier service between the shore and the customers. She herself is a prostitute too. Her house is on the shore and she lives a lonely life. She cannot talk and is silent throughout the entire movie. A good piece of acting. By looking at a scene where she sits and thinks deeply, we learn that she too has lost her companion in the past.

We see Hyun-Shik coming to live in a cottage. Hee-Jin takes him in the boat to his cottage. One night, as Hee-Jin brings some food to one of the cottages, one person wants her service, and he plays with the money, without giving it to Hee-Jin. He throws it in the water, and Hee-Jin collects it. Later that night, while that person is answering nature’s call, is suddenly pulled in to the water, and is attacked.

Gradually, Hee-Jin starts noticing Hyun-Shik. He too is lonely like her, and she starts developing a kind of a bond on him. We see Hyun-Shik trying to kill himself with a gun, and at the last second, is poked through the cottage floor by a spike and is thus hurt and bleeds. Hence he drops his suicidal attempt that night.

Through a five second raw flashback, we learn that he murdered his girlfriend and her lover while they make love, and escaped to the resort, fleeing from the police. He is fond of creating small structures using the thin iron wires used for fishing and seldom comes out. He tries to manhandle Hee-Jin one day and violently undresses her, but Hee-Jin beats him and moves away in her boat. The next day, a prostitute comes to Hee-Jin and asks her to take her to Hyun-Shik’s cabin. It’s been raining heavily, and she takes her in her boat. At Hyun-Shik’s cabin, he asks the prostitute not to undress, and gives her tea. It’s his loneliness which makes him to be with company, and they talk. Hee-Jin observes everything from her house and the strange expression on her face tells us she is jealous of the girl and she does not like her to visit Hyun-Shik.

Since coz of the rain, the prostitute stays for a long time in Hyun-Shik’s cabin, and as a result, the local pimp angrily beats the girl and takes her away. Even then, during her weekly off, the prostitute again goes to Hyun Shik, as he was the only one to be kind on her. Hee-Jin refuses to take her to him, but gives in after a while.

We see Hee-Jin catching a frog, hitting it hard on a rock, killing it, and by grabbing it tightly, tearing it apart, and feeding the pieces to Hyun-Shik’s pet bird. We also see a man catching a fish in one of the cottages, and skinning the fish alive, tearing its stomach and pulling the flesh out and eat it, saying that ‘Sushi’ (raw fish) is tasty. He then leaves the fish in the water, which swims away.


One day, we see police searching all the cottages for someone, and while they arrest a person, Hyun-Shik becomes restless. While Hee-Jin is coming to his cottage, he collects four small fish-hooks which are curved and are sharp at the end (like a reversed question mark) and puts them in to his throat. He then sternly pulls the chord, as the fish hooks tear his throat. Unable to bear the pain, he starts twitching uncontrollably, as Hee-Jin jumps in to his cabin. Seeing the police approach the cabin, she immerses him in the water below, and after they are gone, pulls him up using the same rod hooked to the fish hooks he just swallowed. She quickly sits on top of him, opens his mouth and pulls away all the hooks with the help of a cutting player. She then makes love to him, granting his long awaiting boon, which can soothe his pain.

From that day, she visits his cabin every day and spends time with him. Hyun-Shik too starts to like Hee-Jin. But, as like every relationship, we see small fights between them, and one day, while fishing, as Hee-Jin catches a fish (the same fish which was skinned by the man previously). Hyun-Shik throws it away in the water, which makes her angry. She grabs his pet bird and throws the cage in water, and we see the bird sink. Hyun-Shik becomes angry and tries to leave the cottage, shouting at her he can leave at any moment, since that is not his home. They both fight severely.

After a few days, the prostitute comes to Hee-Jin again and asks her to take her to Hyun-Shik. She becomes angry, takes her to another far off cabin and ties her down and leaves. That night, while trying to escape, the prostitute falls in to the water and suffocates to death. The next day, Hee-Jin notices this and ties a rock to the corpse, so that it can settle down at the abyss. She also dumps the prostitute’s bike in to the water.

The pimp angrily comes to Hyun-Shik’s cabin in search of the prostitute, and starts beating him. Hyun-Shik retaliates by beating the pimp severely and throwing him in the water. He-Jin arrives there with her boat and she kills the pimp. They both tie the pimp’s body to a worn out car battery and push him in to the water.




As Hee-Jin’s obsession on Hyun-Shik grows, she expects him to be with her always. This irritates him and he tries to leave one day in the boat. As he is half way towards the shore, Hee-Jin, with a calm expression on her face, collects the fishing hooks and slowly puts them inside her vagina. Holding the rope firmly, she suddenly pulls it hard, which makes her to scream wildly. Hyun-Shik rushes back and she stands at the cottage’s entrance, with a blood soaked dress. He slowly pulls all the fish hooks from her vagina with a cutting player, and while placing them down, we see him placing two hooks in the shape of a heart. Symbolism of love.

As Hee-Jin heals, a prostitute accidentally pushes a man’s Rolex watch in to the water, and he seeks the help of the police. While the divers search the watch in the water, they discover the bodies of the pimp and the prostitute. Seeing this, Hee-Jin connects the boat’s motor to the cottage, and slowly the cottage is moved in to a very lonely place in the resort. With a beautiful zoom out and a fade out shot, the film gives an impression that it has ended with this shot.

But, there is still a minute left. The shots placed at this final minute might totally confuse the viewer and it brings in a sort of symbolism in to the movie. It’s like a puzzle which is hard to crack. This scene might serve as an answer to the strange happenings which occur at the beginning of the film at the resort. Even then, I am not going to mention about that final minute of the movie, and my suggestion to the viewers is to stop the film when it fades out after the cottage has been moved to the lonely place at the resort.

‘The Isle’ is also directed by Kim Ki Duk and is his first film to receive international acclaim. It’s his fifth movie. It was released three years before he released his critically acclaimed ‘Spring, summer, fall, winter … and spring’.

Kim Ki Duk has also handled the art direction of the film. Right from the beginning, the film gives us a mystic and philosophic effect, as like ‘Spring…’. The camera work is stunning, and it marvelously captures the resort. The music closely follows the film and is nicely composed. There might only be just a page full of dialogues through out the film.

Now, about the ‘disgusting’ (according to the critics) scenes in the film. We see fishes skinned alive and the flesh inside them pulled out, cut and being eaten. We see a frog smashed to a rock and is being torn apart in to two pieces. We see fishes thrown out of the aquarium and die, twitching. We also se a dog mercilessly beaten. Now, the critics were against these scenes, mentioning that these scenes clearly depict the cruelty to animals. What was Kim Ki Duk’s reaction?

Kim talks here: “The way I see it, the food that we eat today is no different. In America you eat beef, pork, and kill all these animals. And the people who eat these animals are not concerned with their slaughter. Animals are part of this cycle of consumption. It looks more cruel onscreen, but I don't see the difference. And yes, there's a cultural difference, and maybe Americans will have a problem with it - but if they can just be more sensitive to what is acceptable in different countries I'd hope they wouldn't have too many issues with what's shown on –screen”.

Nevertheless, ‘Seom’ – The Isle, is a very important film and has gained critical acclaim worldwide, and stands as one of Kim Ki Duk’s masterpieces. It was released in the year 2000 in South Korea and as like all the Kim Ki Duk movies, didn’t pull in the Korean audience, but was able to garner the attention of the world movie fans.
See the trailer here.




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