The mordantly hilarious Chinese black comedy The Island is what you’d get if Lord of the Flies were reimagined as a capitalist critique about a group of adult white-collar workers who, shipwrecked on a tropical island, create a society ruled by power-hungry “bosses,” a title vied for by competing wannabe leaders Wang (Wang Xiao) and Zhang (Hewei Yu).
Mega-star comedian turned writer-director Bo Huang and his six credited co-writers’ clever story suggests that power corrupts everyone in a trickle-down society, including schlubby worker drone Jin Ma (Huang, star of Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons and Breakup Buddies) and his loyal sidekick Xing (Xing Xiao).
Sheer dumb luck periodically helps Wang, who monopolizes the community’s freshwater sources, or hurts Zhang, who controls the group’s fish supply using an elaborate trading-card-based barter system. But neither protagonist stays in control for long since much of Huang and his collaborators’ inventive plot hinges on unexpected reversals of fortune.
Even the antisocial nebbish Ma, who obsesses over a winning lottery ticket like Sméagol protecting his Precious ring, inevitably slips up whenever he acts purely out of self-interest, as Xing learns after he inadvertently discovers that Ma lied to him about winning the lottery just because he didn’t want to split the winnings. There are no good or bad people in The Island, just a group of hapless schmucks who become more sympathetic as they get more desperate.
Directed by Bo Huang
Well Go USA
Opens August 10, AMC Empire 25
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 8, 2018