A staple of American fantasies, the idea of the island castaway living alone from the rest of the world is a curious Western mindset designed to sell the return to tranquility and primitive values in the modern world with examples ranging from “Robinson Crusoe” to various ‘Survivor’ seasons. This Chinese black dramedy, directed by star Huang Bo, takes that mindset and uses it to fuel his directorial debut released July 30th on digital and Blu-Ray from WellGo USA.
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With a giant meteorite heading towards Earth, Ma Jin (Huang Bo, from “Journey to the West”) decides to look past it and joins Shanshan (Shu Qi, from “The Assassins”) Xing (Zhang Yixin, from “Kung Fu Yoga”) and Zhang (Yu Hewei, from “Three Kingdoms”) among others on a corporate teambuilding retreat. While in the middle of the ocean, their trip is interrupted by the meteor striking the planet, leaving the entire group stranded on a deserted island savaged by the impact of the collision. Turning to tour-guide Wang (Wang Biaoquang, from “Lost in Thailand”) to lead due to his previous military experience, his tyranny lead forces everyone to split into two camps, allowing Ma Jin to seize the opportunity to pit everyone against each other in order to take over. After realizing that life may not go the way he wanted regardless of who’s in charge, he sets out to get them off the island anyway he can.
As an adventure-based drama/comedy, “The Island” does manage plenty of solid points here. The whole idea of how they get trapped on the island, due to the massive rolling tsunami that comes for their boat forcing them to not only have to dodge that but a runaway cargo ship and it’s contents spilling out as well as the school of whales mindlessly swimming along. It’s an amazing action scene filled with genuine tension and suspense with the small bus maneuvering through the debris and wreckage and stranding them on the fateful island. The ensuing first hour of this, where their training betrays the group and everyone splinters off into various factions attempting to find a suitable leader is quite fun and manages to make for an intriguing setup to everything.
The main problem with the film comes from the fact that this really isn’t that funny. The idea of being stranded on a deserted island with no way back to civilization due to a meteorite landing on the planet doesn’t strike any comedic potential. The ruthless boss who continually treats them like trained animals, humiliates them at every turn and turning everyone’s insecurities against each other in order to promote his continued power, doesn’t have the slightest bit of comedic value. That Ma Jin’s entire reason for staying anywhere is to try to get back to the mainland to cash out his lottery ticket shows that the film is far more interested in exploring the idea of greed and corruption, but that doesn’t bring many points here other than to drag the film out far longer than necessary.
Indeed, that last point is another big factor in “The Island’s” downfall. Writer/Director Huang Bo has adapted a story that provides plenty of different elements together, from survivalist island adventure to a workplace romance, an exploration of corruption and even slapstick comedy but none of these elements come together very well. The film goes from one wild extreme to another, managing a feverish fantasy dream one moment and then turning around to a much more gritty and realistic version for their plight the next with little means of merging these ideas seamlessly. In the end, these wildly varying ideas cause the film to run on far longer than it really should be.
While there are points to like within “The Island,” for the most part this is an overlong mess of a running time and some haphazard plotting doesn’t manage to overcome those issues. This is mainly for those that enjoy the creative crew’s previous work together or enjoy these humanistic tales, while viewers put off by the films present should heed caution.