Yeong-do (played by Tae In-ho) is a young man who lives miserably in the shadow of his father, a person whose main accomplishment was being executed as a murdered. Yeong-do is also the name of the island on which Yeong-do lives- an utterly miserable hopeless location of bleak, ugly looking housing and even less encouraging opportunities for life advancement. That much is true even for the people who aren't descended from murderers.
The location shooting is the main standout quality of "Shadow Island". It's also the most paradoxical, because Yeong-do isn't really a place that anyone would want to visit on vacation. "Shadow Island" makes it look like a completely miserable slum. I found this interesting mainly from a business perspective. Normally local film committees try to encourage film production for tourism purposes. Here, I guess art alone was enough of a motivating factor to garner local cooperation. Yeong-do being located close to Busan might have had something to do with that.
As for the actual plot and content of "Shadow Island", well, it's misery for the sake of misery. I can't exactly be upset about this, given how discouraging the story sounds when described in synopsis. In execution the situation is even worse than that- not violence, not gangsters, not even tragic backstory ever manage to be especially exciting. This is just the background noise of the life of Yeong-do, which does explain why it is that the young man has such a lousy attitude about life.
Yeong-do the person is stuck in Yeong-do the place because, well, there isn't really anywhere else for him to try to go. He's trapped by his birthright, as well as by limited prospects. That on its own might have been tolerable but adapting circumstances, and Yeong-do's inability to escape from them, have results that are more consistent with the established context than with standard narrative form. The plot only moves into action with sudden spurts- and this much inspired a lot of impatience on my part.
Understanding Yeong-do, and the unpleasantness therein, doesn't really make for very introspective material without some further more insightful context. And that much is almost entirely lacking. "Shadow Island" as a film is just really difficult to relate to. The lack of interest factor is an even bigger issue- there's nothing here except misery, not even flash. And while it pains me to admit it, a movie, even an independent one, really does need some kind of flash factor in order to keep the viewer from being completely exhausted by the runtime.
There is enough material here to warrant a decent level of analysis- there's the usual intersections of past actions reflecting the present and vice versa. Fleeting victory isn't what matters so much in the story as inevitable unavoidable defeat. The cinematography, however ridiculously bleak, does accurately reflect the hopeless world that writer/director Son Seung-woong so clearly wanted to exposit. I'm at a bit of a loss as to what his goal was with "Shadow Island", but I suppose that's not too important an issue anyway. Sometimes it just doesn't matter.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Shadow Island""
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