Starring: Cho Jae-hyun, Lee Eun-woo, Seo young-ju
Director: Kim Ki-duk
Moebius is probably one of the most batshit crazy films ever to come out of… well, anywhere, let alone the brain of a respected director like Kim Kid-uk. It contains not one word of dialogue, and that alone would make it stand out as something of an oddity. But you quickly realize that what the characters say or don’t say is the least of it – it’s what they do that will have your gag reflex working overtime.
The story revolves around what has to be the hands down winner of the title of Korean cinema’s most dysfunctional family. Crazed by his affair with a girl who works in a convenience store, a wine-guzzling housewife (Lee Eun-woo) attempts to do a Billy Bobbitt on her husband (Cho Jae-hyun), fails, and then, as a kind of consolation prize, cuts off the penis of her shy and inoffensive son (Seo young-ju). She then walks out, leaving him with all sorts of humiliating problems, ranging from bullying at school to a non-starter of a sex-life. Understandably thrown off kilter, he becomes an unwilling participant in an attempted rape, has a spell in jail, and then takes up with the convenience store girl, who has in the meantime been jilted by the boy’s guilt-ridden father. Adversity seems to bring father and son together, but not exactly in a healthy way – getting it from all sides, with even his own son beating him up, the father begins to show marked masochistic tendencies.
The film is full of behaviour that falls under the don’t-try-this-at-home category, from grating the skin off your feet to achieve orgasm, to allowing your partner to stab you in the shoulder during sex as an aphrodisiac, to running around with a severed penis in your hands (the boy’s willy isn’t the only one to get snipped off during the course of events). And yet, although the three main characters do terrible things, they’re not terrible people, brutish and insensitive – in fact, quite the reverse. So when, for instance, the mother gives the son a handjob, yes, on one level it’s filthy incest, but (for reasons we won’t go into here, but which have an insane logic to them) she’s actually displaying an odd kind of fidelity to the boy’s father,
This is film that goes absolutely out of its way to be shocking and disgusting, but people will probably find it blackly funny, thanks to the quality of the performances, which leaven the sickness with humanity and a kind of affectionate understanding. Lee Eun-woo has the most eye-grabbing role as the mother, writhing around on the floor showing her underpants, her face covered in blood and snot, but it’s Cho Jae-hyun’s father who sneakily wins your sympathies with his bumblingly twisted acts of paternal love. As for the complete eschewing of dialogue, only occasionally does the device feel forced; most of the time the gloomy silence that prevails seems just right, the soundtrack to many a broken home.
Although it’s easy to get lost in the welter of erotomania, the film has a quirky message that comes through loud and clear – that penises are more trouble than they’re worth and they can get in the way of happiness (after all, it was the father’s inability to keep it in his pants which kicked off all the trouble in the first place). Mad but memorable, Moebius is powerful enough to make you wonder whether more directors should follow Kim Ki-duk’s example and go a little crazy sometimes.
The disc comes with a 7-minute interview with Seo Young-ju, and a further 26-minute Q&A with the same actor on stage at the Terracotta Festival – he’s not the most outward-going character, but he has a go, talking about his initial worries and how reassuringly pleasant and cheerful the director was.