|Not to be confused with anything written by Jules Verne, Mysterious Island is so enormously bad that it actually becomes somewhat entertaining. A generic survival horror film about a bunch of strangers stranded on a haunted island, the film has tons of nagging problems that any viewer with a brain should take issue with. The biggest and most unsolvable problem: Mysterious Island is predominantly a supernatural horror film until itís necessary for it not to be one. As is widely understood, SARFT stipulates that movies are not supposed to feature ghosts, though they've been allowed to do so in the past if they somehow debunk their own spectral premise. As such, director Chung Kai-Cheong gleefully reveals evidence of the supernatural until he throws it all away for a tired plotline about some evil entity operating behind the scenes. Triple yawn. You've seen this before, if not on film then in an episode of Scooby Doo.
The filmmakers don't seem to care about quality or verisimilitude, and load the film with needless style and boldly dishonest misdirection. Mysterious Island possesses spastic camerawork and super-aggressive, hilarious sound design that's primarily used to mess with the viewer. The soundtrack features menacing animal sounds and shrill female screams, but the sound effects rarely match anything happening onscreen. Characters fall from dangerous-looking heights and stumble endlessly down hills, but instead of broken bones they just end up a little dirty. Rampaging boars are portrayed via dimly-lit close-ups of a vigorously shaking stuffed animal. Logic is totally absent; the island would have to be rigged like a Rube Goldberg machine to screw with this many people at once, but little is really explained. The filmmakers are clearly not interested in convincing anyone.
Fuelling the illogic is the simple story, which possesses absolutely no supporting framework. The reality show "Search Planet" offers eight individuals a million US dollars if they can find a hidden flag on an island. The contestants are ferried to the island by boat, but before it gets there, the boat is waylaid by murky underwater stuff that's never revealed or explained. The contestants plus the TV host and cameraman are now trapped on the seemingly haunted island, which was selected to host "Search Planet" despite being deserted, possessing no communication facilities, and also being a former leper colony. Yeah, the TV station and sponsors must be estatic about their investment. As for the contestants, they're ready to go Lord of the Flies on each other because there's only one treasure map, and it's owned by the mousy Yi Lin (mainland star Mini Yang). Then people start dying. Yay, finally!
Mysterious Island has lots of characters but the filmmakers never pretend that they're anything more than standard types. Yi Linís partner is Peng Fei (Jordan Chan), a nice bloke who wants to get off the island now, but encounters interference from the other contestants, who are either greedy, stupid or both. Maggie Li and Janel Tsai play a couple of girls who are willing to rub naked chests with Peng Fei to get at the map, while Hiro Hayama shows up as a hilariously bloodthirsty Japanese guy who's forever playing with his hunting knife. Anya returns from celebrity purgatory to play a sensible-seeming contestant who may know more about the island than she lets on.
Meanwhile, Shine boys Tsui Tin-Yau and Wong Yau-Nam play their standard screen personas, one colorlessly decent and the other owning a snarky 'tude. Jessica Xu plays TV host Stanley, who seemingly looks for every opportunity to strip down to her bikini top. She also speaks in laughable English, and she's joined by Shaun Tam, who plays "Search Planet" cameraman Ken. For some odd reason, Tam and Xu act in English, while the other characters speak their native tongues - either Cantonese, Mandarin or Japanese in Hiro Hayama's case. There should be obvious communication issues, but strangely translation is never required. It makes no sense at all, but little here does. By the time the real villain is revealed and starts acting super-insane, the sheer inanity of it hardly registers anymore.
Mysterious Island is basically a "roll with it" movie, where you either have to accept that it's crap and enjoy how exceptionally lousy it is, or simply not see it at all. This is a movie one might see because they want to spend a couple of hours away from the parental units, and feel like watching something creepy in the air-conditioned dark. However, expending actual effort, e.g. seeking out the DVD or travelling thirty minutes to the cinema to see the movie, is not a smart move because the film never lives up to its obvious promise. Mysterious Island could use more than PG-13 exploitation; adding actual nudity to the shower sequences (strangely, the island has hot water and the girls are constantly deciding they need to use it) would have been a plus, as would some extra gore or extreme violence.
But that brings us back to square one: this is a China film and in China films you can't do most things that you want to do. The filmmakers never had the option of making this what it should have been - a gory, exploitative slasher or an actual ghost film Ė and they clearly know that. In the end, Mysterious Island is not really a movie Ė itís a knowing exercise in pretending to be what it absolutely can't be. Given the gleeful lack of pretension of display, the filmmakers had fun looking for every last workaround to this problem. For the audience, the workaround is simple: get in on the joke or don't go at all. (Kozo, 2011)