With a base focused on showing the blights of capitalism towards the traditional way of life, "Ieodo" (or "Ieoh Island" as it is also known) soon reveals its true, thriller-like nature, through a quite complex narrative that includes flashbacks into flashbacks, and an atmosphere that thrives on ritualism.
The aforementioned island is one of the many in the Korean archipelago whose economy is based on its women divers. However, the element that distinguishes this particular one is a curse that seems to haunt the men born there, who are destined to die in the sea near the island, no matter how far they try to escape. According to the legend, these men end up in Iodo Island, a place no one seems to pinpoint its location.
Seon Woo-hyeon works for an agency that is about to build a hotel in one of the islands in the area. In a publicity stunt, he takes the investors and the press to a tour around the islands, supposedly in an exploration trip to find the cursed island. One of the passengers is Cheon Nam-seok, a journalist who ends up drowned during the trip, with Seon Woo-hyeon being the main suspect for his death. In order to prove his innocence, the accused travels to Parang, along with the deceased's boss. In there, however, he comes across a series of strange stories revolving around the deaths of a number of males in the island, while he also learns of the troubling past of Cheon. The story becomes even more complicated when the local bar waitress, Sohn Min-ja, shares some tales about a secret girlfriend from the past, while the "shadow leader" of the island, a shaman, seems to have an agenda, along with the knowledge about the deceased, of her own.
As said in the prologue, Kim Ki-young's narrative is a complex one, since it includes two basic parallels, one in the present focusing on Sun's research, and one in the past, focusing on Cheon's life, actually starting with his childhood, and an oath his mother made a neighboring girl take about taking care of her son forever. Apart from these two basic ones, though, there are a number of peripheral stories presented through flashbacks, that revolve around the mysterious deaths of the men inhabiting the island and eventually connect the dots of the basic arcs. This approach induces the film with a sense of disorientation, and along with the ritualistic nature of the shamanism that seems to dominate the story and the "supernatural" events forms the basis of the narrative style, which thrives on mystery.
In terms of context, Kim focuses on portraying the clash between the modern and the traditional, the money-driven capitalism and the superstition-filled folklore, with the various stories repeatedly highlighting who the winner is, in dramatic fashion. The central theme of the film, though, seems to revolve around propagation, a concept that is mainly depicted through Seon Woo-hyeon's story, with it actually shaping his whole life, both in social and professional terms.
The production values of the film are a mixed lot. Jeong Il-seong's cinematography is exceptional, with him portraying the island and the area that surrounds it with artistry, through a combination of beauty and mystery that finds its apogee in the waving trees and the sea. Hyeon Dong-choon's editing is a bit strange, particularly due to the nature of the narrative, but through some repeating methods, as the images of sea waves before each one, he manages to keep the plethora of flashbacks from becoming confusing. On the other hand, the sound and the various SFX almost point toward the parody, in a testament of the productions lack of funds. The general atmosphere though, prevents the film from becoming one, with these faults being easily ignored as the story progresses, while the finale compensates for every fault.
The acting is on par with the film's aesthetics. Kim Jung-chul as Seon Woo-hyeon depicts his perplexion convincingly, while Choi Yoon-suk as Cheon Nam-seok is great in revealing his character's complexity, which derives from powers that seem to be above him. The ones who steal the show though, are the female leads. Lee Hwa-si as Son Min-ja, Park Jung-ja as the shaman and Kwon Mi-hye as Mrs Park are all exceptional, as they portray the mysteriousness surrounding their characters with gusto, with the scene in the finale and the various exorcisms additionally highlighting their great chemistry. Overall, the acting is characterized by a theatricality that follows the rules of the melodrama, but in the end, this tactic actually benefits the film.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
Available on Blu-ray from YESASIA
Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[Guest Film Review] "Ieodo""
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