Island (2023) A Review (Of Sorts)
Now that it’s all over I’m wondering why I even bothered persisting with this one. Even knowing how mediocre Part 1 was, I still made the effort to continue. Perhaps it’s out of regard for the cast who obviously did their best with a subpar script. Perhaps it’s a case of hope triumphing over good sense. Or it could be that we’re subscribed to Prime anyway.
Whatever my motivations, Island is an shining exemplar of what happens when the story is so poorly plotted that even good charismatic actors can’t save it from oblivion. Kim Nam-gil who was the star of last year’s critically acclaimed Through the Darkness couldn’t. And Cha Eun-woo who is surprisingly good in this, helped raised his own acting profile but even his good looks couldn’t cover up the deficiencies in the writing. Lee Da-hee is evidently the worst served. I won’t deny that there are ingredients of a good story in the mix waiting to be harnessed but good ingredients alone don’t make a good dish or a meal. A lot depends on the cook and what kind of recipe she’s working from.
While I’m just as annoyed as everyone else about the meaningless split into two parts, I don’t think it played much of a role in the show’s overall quality. It certainly didn’t for The Glory. What dealt the death blow for me is the writing first, second and third. The writer not only shows a superficial understanding of the superhero and/or fantasy genres but can’t depict characters outside of archetypes or tropes. Superhero shows have been mainstream for about two decades now and for any new entry to make its mark, it has to rise above the flash and bang. Sadly this one even with all the great cinematography doesn’t cut it (pun intended) in the editing stakes either. It’s pretty glaring when the show does narrative shifts from character to character. Even in some of the fight scenes where one would expect this show to be at its best.
There’s an end-of-the-world scenario looming. And apparently it’s enough of a concern to cause Catholics, Buddhists and animists to work together. It’s not clear why all of this just so happens to be coming to a head but Part 2 soon puts us wise. Apparently there’s a doomsday cult behind all this although where they come from or who they are is never explained. The show is shy to reveal too much because it’s obvious towards the end of Episode 12 that they’re setting up a sequel of sorts. The cynical side of me wonders if this whole first series is just one long ad campaign for what’s coming down the pike. There is a distinctly “to be continued” set-up that I’ve been sensing from more than one drama of late.
These people of White oddly enough aren’t happy with Mi-ho’s attempts to save the island and bring light so they use Guntang (Sung Joon) to be a vessel of chaos and destruction. Of course he’s vengeful enough to want to go along with the agenda. Because this cult powerful as they are, seem content to stay in the background and send a one-note proxy there’s really not a whole lot of plot to work with. If darkness and anarchy are their thing, why would they a) depend on such an unreliable stooge to get the work done b) not intervene at the final battle. The lore is underdeveloped and that means that the plot itself doesn’t go anywhere interesting because Guntang isn’t a particularly compelling antagonist even if he is a powerful bloodthirsty one. Lots of people get killed in this but all we get is an overlong revenge story where people stand around passively waiting for the final imminent showdown that keeps getting postponed because
Mi-ho can’t get her act together because she doesn’t know about the Magic Marble because the revelation comes very late in the story the plot requires it. What’s worse to my mind are the characters acting like they’re lone rangers for most of the show, doing their own thing, not explaining themselves which I imagine is supposed to generate some lower level conflict that’s pretty silly for the most part. There’s so little teamwork and even that comes very late in the story.
The fact that this is supposed to be based on a popular webtoon makes the problems even more bewildering. There’s an established mythos with pre-drawn characters so why does this adaptation feel like the work of hacks doing copy and paste from other shows we’ve seen before? Even the dialogue feels cliched and badly placed in the narrative. Which inevitably affects the pacing.
I can’t in all good conscience recommend this show to anyone because it requires far more suspension of critical thinking than I am capable of. There’s something wrong about a show like this when the monsters are the most interesting aspect of it. As someone who has seen a lot in this genre and far superior productions, this show is an absolute waste of time. There are far better things on offer. Unless of course the viewer is desperate to ogle over Kim Nam-gil, Cha Eun-woo and Lee Da-hee to the extent that they would put up with indifferent storytelling.