Anyone caught off-guard by Korean director Kim Ki-Duk's 1999 romantic shocker THE ISLE will probably be relieved to learn that no one swallows a single fishhook in this exquisitely crafted drama set in an isolated Korean monastery. As the title suggests, the film takes place over the course of five seasons, each separated in time by several years; taken together, they span the lifetime of a young, unnamed monk. The breathtakingly beautiful setting is a remote valley in Korea's Kyungsang Province, where a tiny wooden monastery drifts slowly across the placid surface of a 200-year-old man-made lake. The brightly decorated monastery (reminiscent of THE ISLE's floating one-room fishing huts) is home to only an aging monk (Oh Young-Soo) and the young initiate (Kim Jong-Ho) who's been left in his care. Each day the old master and the child row to shore to search the thick forest for food and herbs, and it's on one these trips that the old monk catches the boy engaged in the kind of thoughtless cruelty that comes easily to children. After catching a small fish, a toad and, later, a snake, the boy ties a small stone around each with a length of string, rendering each incapable of anything more than the slightest movements. That night, in order to teach the boy a lesson, the old monk straps a rock to the sleeping boy's back with rope. The next morning he tells him he must free the animals; if any have died, a stone will remain forever lodged in his heart. Sadly, the fish and the snake are dead, and even though the old monk unties the stone from the boy's back, subsequent events suggest that the Monk's prophecy about they boy's heart has indeed come true. The action never leaves the confines of the lake setting, but as the seasons pass, the young boy's will be led away from his master and toward sex, obsession, murder and, ultimately, redemption. Kim's offers no great truths here other than to say that like the changing seasons, there is a cycle to everything and even the darkest trails can sometimes lead us back home. It's an idea that's been expressed so badly and so often it in the past that it's become a cliché of the worst sort. But Kim, who also wrote the screenplay, and his cinematographer Baek Dong-Hyun say it so simply and so beautifully its wisdom seems once again restored.
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- Released: 2003
- Rating: R
- Review: Anyone caught off-guard by Korean director Kim Ki-Duk's 1999 romantic shocker THE ISLE will probably be relieved to learn that no one swallows a single fishhook in this exquisitely crafted drama set in an isolated Korean monastery. As the title suggests, t… (more)