Moebius (Cert 18)
1 Disc DVD (Distributor: Terracotta) Running time: 87 minutes
There is a saying which goes “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should”. It’s fair to say that if one film director needs to be made aware of this ethos then almost assuredly Korean auteur Kim Ki-Duk is that man.
With a varied body of work that has on occasion redefined the term “controversial” with a capital “c” Kim is notorious for making films with content others wouldn’t even dream of considering, yet somehow the end results are oddly watchable and engaging, placing Kim in a league of his own in the world of film making. His latest work Moebius is arguably his most controversial work to date – even the Korean film censors refused to release it until cuts totalling two and half minutes were made – but it is that good or bad thing?
The story involves what must qualify as the most dysfunctional family ever to appear on screen. The mother (Lee Eun-Woo) is furious to learn that her husband (Cho Jae-Hyun) is having an affair with the woman who works at the local convenience store (Lee Eun-Woo again) while their son (Seo Young-Joo) watches on impassively. One night the mother snaps and tries to castrate her husband with a knife but he fights her off. So she goes into her son’s room and castrates him instead.
Unable to reattach the severed members – because the mother ate it!!! – the son is forced to undergo public humiliation via his school mates until he is arrested and jailed for participating in the gang rape of his father’s lover. Meanwhile the father searches the internet for ways to induce sexual satisfaction via alternative methods which involve using pain as a stimulation, which leads to a unique sexual relationship between the boy and his erstwhile rape victim.
If you are still reading, I’ve probably given away too much of the plot but at the same time I’ve not even began to cover half of what has happened, especially the “did they really go there?” final act. Yes Kim seems to be at his most provocative with Moebius making his last film Pieta feel like a Disney comedy in comparison. And that is another thing – this film is a black comedy, if you hadn’t guessed already. Don’t expect to find any laugh out loud moments or stuttering giggles but one or two moments do elicit that awkward guilty little “oh no, did I really see that?” hand to mouth moment whether you want to or not.
Not much about the plot suggests anything to laugh about and the execution will certainly support that, especially since it is highly probably most people will be watching so through their fingers. Whether you like Kim’s choice of direction or material one has to at least admire Kim for his boldness to explore that place in the human psyche which most of us have blocked off with a “Do not cross” police tape prohibiting. And by crossing that line Kim holds up a mirror to all of the questions we may – or may not – have been asking or at least quietly pondering about such personal and contentious issues.
Trying to divine what Kim is trying to say with this film is an arduous task although we can at least hope he isn’t advocating castration to solve a domestic dispute. Violence plays part in it as it often does in Kim’s films, and in some circumstances it is meted out in self defence, but he also ensure that the perpetrators are forced to confront their actions and seek redemption. This comes in an unusual fashion as we have come to expect from Kim, providing us with what has to be one of the oddest, kinkiest yet unsexy sex scene shown on film.
So why would a mother commit such a heinous and destructive act on her own son, just because she is mad at her husband? Something I have yet to mention thus far is that there is literally NO dialogue in Moebius leaving it to the performances of the cast to tell the story. Obviously some things are left unexplained but we can deduce enough about the characters from their facial expression, body language and of course their actions, which for studied Kim Ki-Duk fans will find are quite typical – not that I am condoning this.
Those familiar with Kim’s works know he really asks a lot of his actors and here is no different with Lee Eun-Woo playing two very different yet oddly alike roles. In what must have been an intense experience for her, Lee is able to not only physically appear like two different women with the merest of aesthetic changes (sadly her boobs give her away) but emotionally too. She makes both her characters feel human despite their obvious flaws and questionable ethics but they feel very real in what is quite a surreal situation. It is certainly is a demanding performance which I hope didn’t damage Lee as she has a lot to offer the film world.
Cho Jae-Hyun is a Kim veteran having made Bad Guy with him in 2001 and despite being the catalyst for this whole unfortunate mess, brings a touch of humanity to the father in the scenes where he strives to protect and help his son. A complex figure he becomes weaker as the film goes on while his son grows stronger and more daring. In Seo Young-Joo, Kim has found a young actor who has delivered a difficult and nuanced performance beyond his years that is as powerful as Lee Eun-Woo’s.
Moebius is a film that straddles the line between genius and insanity. It is not an easy watch and certainly not an easy one to recommend to the faint hearted or anyone not already familiar with Kim Ki-Duk’s works. But if you “get it” there is something quite remarkably effective and powerful about this decidedly haunting and challenging opus from this master film maker.
Exclusive Introduction by Director KIM Ki-duk
Exclusive Interview with Actor SEO Young-ju
45 minute Q&A with Actor SEO Young-ju at Terracotta Far East Film Festival, London
MOEBIUS UK trailer
Rating – ****
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