The Island has a premise that cleverly blends the apocalypse-paranoia themes common recently with a narrative that filters “Lord of the Flies” through an office hierarchy. It is an entertaining modern parable about a group of flawed individuals who could easily stand in as representatives for the variety of people existing in society together today. Each have their roles in civilized society, but once the office workers think that the world has been destroyed by an apocalyptic event, it alters their inherent civility.
The Island works as an allegory, but it is also simply an entertaining film, constantly balancing between the humor and drama in a way that doesn’t lower the stakes or become too melodramatic. The imperfect characters and their questionable actions can be frustrating on more than one occasion, but this never makes the film less than engaging. At the heart of the film, despite a storyline involving some exciting sequences along the way, The Island is about the relationships of a group of people whose status in life has been reset.
When the day starts out, everybody knows their place in the company and in society. This dynamic is even clearer as the office workers set out on a day of teambuilding at sea, with Ma Jin (Bo Huang) and his best friend Xiao Xing (Yixing Zhang) treated as lower class members of the group. On top of receiving no respect in the business world, Ma Jin can’t get the recently divorced Shan Shan (Qi Shu) to notice him. When he discovers that he won the lottery jackpot, Ma Jin is prepared for his new status in life, only to be disappointed when a cataclysmic event ironically sets him off course.
Aware of the possibility that a meteor might hit the earth, the office chooses to go on their teambuilding exercise anyway. When part of the meteor indeed does hit the earth, it causes a tidal wave that sends the office workers to a remote island. Certain that humanity has been destroyed by the event, many in the group see no point in trying to escape their new home/prison. Instead, some see this as a reason to start a new world order, and to flip the power structure that once existed in the company. Suddenly those with physical ability are more of an asset than those with financial holdings, and a new society is formed. This does not last, however, and the power continues to struggle between the working class and the upper class, accustomed to having others work for them.
The sociological aspects of the narrative are intriguing, although it is never entirely clear if director Huang Bo has a larger message, or simply uses this scenario to showcase his own acting abilities while trying his hand as filmmaker. While never short of entertaining, part of me kept waiting for the social commentary to have a bit more bite, or at least feel a little less perfunctory. It almost feels obligatory the way the plot moves, even though this is occasionally countered with a pace that appears to lack purpose. In the end, The Island has a little of everything; romance, drama, comedy, and even a bit of action. This is the film equivalent of a ‘Jack-of-all-trades,’ while excelling at none.
The Blu-ray release of The Island comes with nothing more than the film, save a trailer. There is no DVD or digital copy, and the only real supplements are the subtitle options. As Mandarin is the only language choice available (no dubbing options), the English subtitles will be necessary for those who do not speak Chinese (for which there are also subtitles). Unfortunately, despite this being a large budget release in
, there is
no faith that it will do well in the West, which may be why there are multiple
spelling and grammar issues within the English subtitles. It is an unfortunate
but minor flaw most won’t even notice. China
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6.5/10
Historical Significance: 5/10
Special Features: 0/10