Monday, March 21, 2016

Moebius (2013)

Never underestimate Kim Ki-duk’s ability to get himself into trouble. Along with being one of the most consistently interesting filmmakers working today, one of the things that makes Kim such a fascinating character as well as a true maverick is the polarizing reactions to his films worldwide with many of his films getting excellent reactions at various festivals, some even winning major prizes while at the same time his films and the man himself have been equally vilified. The release of The Isle (2000) was delayed in England on account of animal violence and there were many reports of audience members either fainting or vomiting during screenings. The films instances of sexual violence also led critics to deride the film and Kim. Bad Guy (2001) angered many and even led some to label Kim as misogynist and morally reprehensible and Kim was also criticized heavily for his portrayal of teenage prostitution in Samaritan Girl (2004). A hefty amount of the negativity thrown towards Kim’s films has come from his home country of South Korea with Kim being very vocal about Korean society’s attitudes towards many of the ideas explored in his films so its no surprise that 2013’s Moebius irritated the Korean censors more than ever and turned out to be Kim’s most notorious film yet as well as one of his best and one of the most audacious films of the modern era.

In an attempt to get revenge on her adulterous husband, a scorned wife and mother attempts to castrate the husband although he manages to stop her, causing her to turn her attention to the son, successfully castrating him in his sleep before disappearing. Overcome with guilt, the father goes through with a strange act of penance while the son begins an odd relationship with his fathers former mistress before the mother suddenly returns causing things to go from bad to worse.

Not even the most thorough and detailed description of every frame of Moebius (Moebiuseu, 뫼비우스) could do the film justice. This is Kim at his most fierce and full-on since the days of The Isle, Real Fiction (2000) and Bad Guy. Moebius is a brash, perverse and morbidly humorous look into the home life of the most dysfunctional cinematic family unit this side of William Fridkin’s Killer Joe (2012). As minimal as the film is in execution, thematically there is quite a bit going on. While the film may center around the nameless family, Kim also throws in elements involving a local gang the son gets involved with which leads to the relationship with the former mistress and the castration angle gives way to a side plot featuring several characters finding ways to achieve orgasm though pain. Even with all the castration, rape and incest on display, the film could ultimately be seen as a black comedy as there is a surreal absurdity to it all, from the slapstick nature of the psychical altercations between the father and the mother to the matter of fact way characters scratch themselves with rocks or have knives plunged into their shoulders for sexual gratification. The film is also one of Kim’s most experimental in that not one word of dialogue is spoken in the entire film and really none is needed. The faces of the actors say it all, particularly that of actress Lee Eun-Woo in a brilliant duel role as both the mother and mistress.

Kim essentially went “gorilla” with Moebius, shooting on very low budget on a tight schedule and operating the film himself. Interestingly, there was dialogue written for the film although Kim eventually found it unnecessary. Kim had utilized silence before to great effect, most notably in The Isle and 3-Iron (2004) so its interesting why he waited so long to do a film that was completely dialogue free. No matter as the experiment worked. Needless to say, Kim didn’t have the easiest time getting domestic distribution for the film in South Korea where the ratings board gave it a “restricted” rating, meaning it could only play in specialty theatres. The problem being that no such theatres exist in South Korea meaning the film was basically banned, resulting in Kim having to make several cuts. Lead actress Lee Eun-Woo has stated how she witnessed first hand how the reaction to Kim’s films in South Korea is world’s apart from how well his films are received internationally, recalling watching Moebius at the Venice International Film Festival where the audience got it and found the humor in the film versus watching the film with a Korean audience that was gasping in horror the entire time. With a film like Moebius, both seem appropriate but love it or hate it, the fact remains that Moebius is yet another example of Kim’s ability to provoke while being completely original.

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