March 15, 2008

The Isle: Shut Up and Mystify Us Already

Why do mute characters often register as innocent? Samantha Morton in The Sweet Low Down, Joe Morton in Brother From Another Planet, etc. all feel incapable of base emotions simply because they're unable to cuss out loud. Which is what makes the female lead (Suh Jung) of Kim Ki-duk's The Isle so disquieting. She may feel childlike in her silences but she's also as amoral as they come, a verifiable serial killer who'll murder caged birds, fellow prostitutes, or punky pimps just to make a simple point: Listen to me, goddamnit! (Metaphorically speaking, that is.) That humpy policeman on the run doesn't have a chance at escaping her motel of boxy houseboats once she's stuck a handful of fishhooks in that place where his worm has been. But to Kim's credit, The Isle isn't a romance of societal rejects any more than it's a character study about a kooky mass murderer. For me, The Isle was a surrealist's battle of the sexes, an anti-sentimentalist's icky look at love, a swamp-dweller's facts of life. When the tiny yellow houseboat drifts out to sea near the end of the movie, its not just a renegade vehicle, it's a lost soul. Chalk this one up as a film whose weirdness is inextricably bound to its greatness.