Even the best of intentions go horribly wrong, but especially when the world is on the brink…
The Island; a debut feature from veteran Chinese actor Huang Bo is an interesting affair that takes a work outing and devolves it into a social examination much like Lord of the Flies meets TV’s Lost and while it has some moments of genuine human poignancy as people try to reinvent themselves in a world left in tatters from what they knew. However it also does some awkward bounces between comedy and drama that just don’t always work.
It’s an average day, except that the world may or may not be coming to an end with a meteorite potentially getting ready to strike into the Pacific Ocean, but that doesn’t stop a banal team building day at the company where down on their luck brothers Ma Jin and Xing head off to their dead end jobs. With the woman of his dreams mere seats away, life for Ma Jin changes forever when on this team building boat cruise, he learns he just won the lotto. However his joy is short lived, because the meteor did strike the ocean, and thanks to a 100 meter tall tsunami they get stranded and are faced with having to survive as the group’s baser natures come out and survival becomes more and more complex…and that’s where Ma Jin and Xing find a way to finally turn the tide in their favor, but with some devastating consequences.
A strong but ultimately uneven debut for Huang Bo in the director’s chair, The Island liberally borrows from some of the best disaster movies and examinations of social structure out there to make for some genuinely compelling drama as we see this loosely knit group of people essentially get into useless conflicts with one another because they lose the basic social behaviours that we are all supposed to have while facing down the end of the world. However on the other side of the coin the film also has some very weird comedic beats that get lost in translation for North American audiences.
Huang Bo shows some talent at crafting a visual arc and making a solid story and while some of the visual effects are a little cheap, it’s not the kind of film that leans on any splashy visual effects either. It’s a little long but it plays into some very poignant and relevant themes on a humanistic level and makes us examine how we really would treat other people given the opportunities and situations that are presented with. Characters are reasonably well developed and it has a certain amount of flow to it, but there’s nothing that really hammers home any kind of strong point. It plays a little too flaky at times and drifts a bit too much, especially in the first half of the film until it really gets focused on our main characters and their goals.
There’s a couple of familiar faces like Shu Qi and even Huang Bo has a small role but it’s a film that plays way too much in the beats of the ensemble to allow anyone to genuinely stand out like people need to. Sure it’s a film with leads, but it’s not a film with actors who stand out. No one will really remember any of these characters after the movie is over. It’s a nice little film experience in the moment, but it isn’t anything that will stick with you after it’s over.
At the end of the day, The Island is a decent little diversion but there’s plenty of other fish out there in the cinematic sea to pick from.