Seom (The Isle) became something of a cult item after it left audiences at the Venice and Sundance film festivals a little on the queasy side. Indeed, the film’s infamous fishhook-down-the-throat sequence could be the most repulsive image put to film since Pasolini fashioned feces as a lunch snack for his Salo kids. The Isle works neither as a parable for crippled male/female relationships nor as a study of isolation and fatal attractions. If the material feels like second-rate Oshima or third-rate Imamura, there’s a reason: director Kim Ki-Duk is provocateur first and poet second. A mute-prostitute-cum-boat-proprietress is the liaison between a network of whores and the johns that live inside a series of colored fishing-shacks that float gently atop a mist-covered bay. While The Isle is both preposterous and thoroughly misogynistic, its vistas are incredibly beautiful to look at (a boat breaks through the mist and the boats nearby bob up in down as if on cue). Ki-Duk’s use of the long shot is every bit as impressive as the means by which he juxtaposes the National Geographic snapshots with vulgar shock jolts. Though there isn’t any obvious evolutionary discourse at play here, Ki-Duk does draw a fascinating parallel between his wounded protagonists and the fish that swims away after half its body is cut off and turned into an impromptu sushi snack.
It must count as a disappointment that this DVD edition of the Isle doesn’t really do justice to Kim Ki-Duk’s ravishing color palette. Edge enhancement is only noticeable occasionally, but blacks are muggy and skin tones are merely adequate. The Dolby Digital surround track may be underwhelming for some, if only because there’s so little dialogue in the film and the musical score is so restrained.
The conservative collection of the features included on this DVD edition of The Isle begins with three talking-head interviews with director Kim Ki-Duk and actors Suh Jung and Kim Yoo-suk. None offer much insight, though it may just be that it’s all lost beneath the cloying way the interviews are cut up by questions printed on intertitles. Seven minutes of behind-the-scenes footage is made available, which features an occasional blooper or two. Some of this footage serves as raw material for a music video also included on the disc. Trailers for Tuvalu, Merci Pour Le Chocolat, and The Trials of Henry Kissinger are included in addition to The Isle’s original theatrical trailer.
If you’re a sadist and your Pure Moods CD has reached its expiration date, The Isle is probably a must-own for you.