Lee Hwa-si, Choi Yun-seok, Kim Chung-chul, Park Jung-ja, Park Am, Gwon Mi-hye, Yeo Po
Seok-ho Kim, Jae-woong Lee
Dong-A Exports Co., Ltd.
Suspected of being responsible for the death of a man near Io Island, a mythical location considered by promoters as the namesake for a new spa resort, Sun, one of the executives on the project, travels to the neighbouring Parang to uncover the truth and clear his name. Legend has it that Io Island leads Parang’s fishermen to their death. Its community is therefore haunted by the souls of lost sailors and survived only by its women. Confronted by their matriarchal ways, the businessman is soon caught in the tides of time — the specific push and pull between past and present, folklore and modernity, ritual and capital. The murder mystery starts to unravel.
Championed by Bong Joon-ho, who often cites him as his favourite filmmaker, and best known in the West for THE HOUSEMAID and WOMAN CHASING THE BUTTERFLY OF DEATH, Kim Ki-young remains criminally underseen. In IO ISLAND, a gem of folk horror that premiered at the 28th Berlin International Film Festival, yet remains a secret handshake among aficionados of Korean cinema, he tackles the ravages of corporate greed on native cultures through a beguiling narrative of environmental devastation that, while initially familiar (shades of THE WICKER MAN comes to mind), soon unfolds in wholly unexpected — that is, gruesome and seedy — directions.
A complex structure of nested flashbacks transforms the vistas of Parang into a claustrophobic psychic prison as the tale’s stranglehold gets progressively tighter. IO ISLAND culminates in a shocking experience like few others (save, perhaps, for recent folk horror touchstone THE WAILING), offering further proof that Kim Ki-young is a major filmmaker — perhaps the key filmmaker to understanding a specific lineage of South Korean genre auteurs and their unparalleled proficiency in allegorical storytelling. – Ariel Esteban Cayer