Few things thaw my bitter soul as quickly and efficiently as watching Jennifer Lopez stumble at the very last moment into the outstretched arms of her male object of desire — I swear I didn’t see it coming. But what about those few disenchanted souls who find such outlandish tales of fantasy to be incompatible with their own less idealistic sensibilities regarding the realities of romance?Although Hugh Grant may not feel your pain, South Korean director and iconoclast Kim Ki-duk most certainly does.In between dodging verbal assaults from female film critics, Ki-duk’s been hard at work gathering numerous accolades on the festival circuit with his innovative and highly controversial cinematic displays of human nature’s inherent capacity for evil.Despite a lack of formal education in film, his unconventional origins have led him to spawn his own unique brand of filmmaking full of startling imagery and captivating visual metaphors.Anyone who’s ever appraised the value of a picture as being equal to that of a thousand words should undoubtedly find a wealth of enjoyment to be harvested here.”The Isle” is Ki-duk’s fourth effort, commencing with the grace and serenity of a picturesque Asian travelogue. The story itself is entirely situated within a quiet secluded community of floating fishing shanties speckled with nameless inert characters with no clear past or future.At the center of the tale is a beautiful young mute woman — Jung Suh — who supports herself by running a makeshift ferry service while grudgingly hawking her salacious wares to libidinal fishermen.However, when a strange man — Yoo-Suk Kim — holes up in one of the adjacent houseboats, a peculiar bond slowly precipitates that soon transcends the boundaries of standard dating protocol.The curiously infatuated pair give new meaning to the term “abusive relationship.” Things get weirder as it becomes evident that this mysterious gentleman hides from some unutterable past transgression.Both refreshing in its realism and agonizing in its surrealism, “The Isle” is a love story in which the romantic elements are actually treated with the tact and respect they deserve.As the film unfolds, we discover love is a violently fickle entity with the ability to vacillate wildly between quiet malaise and bizarre self-inflicted torture. In Ki-duk’s world, the complexity of one’s emotions exceeds the limited capabilities of what can be described through human speech.The two lovestruck souls opt to shuffle about in silence conveying their respective mental states through spontaneous instances of rape and violence.Meanwhile, Ki-duk delineates the inner turbulence of the relationship via brilliant symbolism and visual allegories involving butchered fish, skinned frogs, and a wicked cool fishhook scene I suggest you watch on an empty stomach.Though Ki-duk does grant the privilege of dialogue to a handful of peripheral characters, the irritatingly trite rhetoric of these secondary personages serves mostly to deftly symbolize the tiresome depravity of the outside world in its attempts to meddle in the far more intriguing central romance of the film.Regardless, you’ll be immensely relieved to watch the couple finally dispose of these superfluous individuals with remarkably little fanfare, burying their insignificant corpses in the dark aqueous depths of Ki-duk’s magnificent existential landscape.”The Isle” makes its Rochester premiere Saturday, Feb. 15 at 8 p.m. in the Dryden Theatre at the George Eastman House.Berg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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