The Island (Huang Bo, 2018)


Opening this week at the Oak Tree (which in itself is interesting, as recent Chinese releases have almost exclusively played downtown at the Pacific Place or the Meridian), is the directorial debut of Huang Bo, a comic actor probably best known for playing the Monkey King in Stephen Chow’s Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons. In The Island, he’s reunited with one of his co-stars from that film, Shu Qi, for a fascinating film that’s half adventure/rom-com and half allegory about the different stages of socio-economic evolution.

Huang and his co-workers, thirty of them in all, counting their boss, go off on a team-building trip in one of those buses that go on the water (you know, the ones with a duck face on the front), out of the local harbor and into the ocean. Unfortunately for them, a massive meteor is headed for that very same ocean, which creates a tidal wave that deposits them all on a deserted island, at the very same moment that Huang learns he has won the lottery.

What follows are the usual escapades, familiar from Gilligan’s Island and Lord of the Flies, but structuring it all are the different phases of leadership and economy the survivors follow. Initially, it is sheer physical strength and dexterity that determines power, with the bus driver (played by Detective Chinatown‘s Wang Baoqiang) assuming tyrannical powers because he’s the only one of them able to climb the trees necessary to retrieve fruit. Soon though the society is split, with the (former) boss promising more freedom for his followers, only to essentially enslave them in a wage-labor and currency system, which he manipulates for his own benefit.

The boss is able to get his start because he discovers an old shipwreck full of essential supplies, basically he lucks into an enormous stockpile of capital. The same thing eventually happens to Huang, which he uses to assert his own control, with even more fanciful promises of freedom, this time based on a kind of communitarianism. This too, though will be corrupted by lies and greed, leaving the workers desperate.

What happens next, after feudalism, capitalism, and socialism, is up in the air, and Huang’s vision of a future outside of these systems is slippery at best, essentially fanciful and inevitably tied up with his character’s obsession with Shu Qi, the co-worker he’s had a crush on for years. Over time, she begins to warm up to him, and her faith in his decency forces him ultimately to confront his own corruption.

But despite Shu Qi’s ever-present charm, she isn’t much of a person, serving instead only as a foil or object of desire for the hero. None of the islanders are any more than types, really, which I suppose is the danger of making a film that is driven more by theory than relationships or individuality. Despite that, The Island is fascinating, defying analogy (maybe a materialist Lost? . . .) while being both funny and surprising in its narrative twists and in its ultimate ambivalence towards, well, everything. People, society, economics, religion, fate, politics and so on. A singular work, one not to be missed.

Friday August 10 – Thursday August 16

Featured Film:

8 Diagram Pole Fighter at the Grand Illusion

One of the Grand Illusion’s best traditions is back this week, a 35mm martial arts classic double feature courtesy of Portland’s Dan Halsted, playing Saturday night only. The headliner is Lau Kar-leung’s 8 Diagram Pole Fighter, with Gordon Liu as the lone (sane) survivor of an attack on a famed family of generals, who goes into hiding at a monastery and eventually seeks his revenge. It’s probably Lau’s darkest film, The Searchers of kung fu movies. Paired with it is a mystery film, also on 35mm, which is certain to be something worth watching.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days (Kim Yonghwa) Fri-Thurs

Central Cinema:

Wayne’s World (Penelope Spheeris, 1992) Fri-Tues
Madonna: Truth or Dare (Alek Keshishian, 1991) Fri-Tues

Century Federal Way:

Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days (Kim Yonghwa) Fri-Thurs
Dakuaan Da Munda (Mandeep Benipal) Fri-Thurs
Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata, 1988) Sun, Mon & Weds Only Subtitled Monday

Grand Cinema:

You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay) Sat Only Our Review
Zoo (Colin McIver) Tues Only
The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939) Weds Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Nico, 1988 (Susanna Nicchiarelli) Fri-Thurs
Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms (Mari Okada) Sat & Sun Only
8 Diagram Pole Fighter (Lau Kar-leung, 1984) Sat Only 35mm, Plus Secret Bonus Feature Our Review Our Podcast
Our House (Anthony Scott Burns) Fri, Sun, Tues & Thurs

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Vishwaroopam 2 (Kamal Haasan) Fri-Thurs In Tamil, Telugu or Hindi, Check Listings
Goodachari (Sashi Kiran Tikka) Fri-Thurs
Srinivasa Kalyanam (Satish Vegesna) Fri-Thurs
Pushpak Viman (Subodh Bhave & Vaibhav Chinchalkar) Sat & Sun Only
Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata, 1988) Sun, Mon & Weds Only Subtitled Monday
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (Shinichirō Watanabe, 2001) Weds & Thurs Only

Regal Meridian:

The Island (Huang Bo) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Northwest Film Forum:

That Summer (Göran Olsson) Fri-Sun
Finda Christa (Camille Billops) Sat Only 16mm
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Film Forum Sun Only
Chicagoland Shorts Vol. 4 Sun Only
Fight Fam Weds Only Q&A After, Free Event
Milford Graves Full Mantis (Jake Meginsky) Weds & Thurs Only

AMC Oak Tree:

The Island (Huang Bo) Fri-Thurs Our Review

AMC Pacific Place:

McQueen (Ian Bonhôte & Peter Ettedgui) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Buybust (Erik Matti) Fri-Thurs

Seattle Art Museum:

To Be or Not To Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942) Thurs Only

SIFF Film Center:

Araby (Affonso Uchôa & João Dumans) Fri-Sun

Regal Thornton Place:

Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata, 1988) Sun, Mon & Weds Only Subtitled Monday
Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (Shinichirō Watanabe, 2001) Weds & Thurs Only

SIFF Uptown:

The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Desiree Akhavan) Fri-Thurs

Varsity Theatre:

Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata, 1988) Weds Only

In Wide Release:

Mission: Impossible–Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie) Our Review
Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham) Our Review
Ant-Man and the Wasp (Peyton Reed) Our Review
Ocean’s 8 (Gary Ross) Our Review
Solo (Ron Howard) Our Review
Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony & Joe Russo) Our Review