J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Kim Ki-Duk’s Moebius

There are more castrations than spoken words in Kim Ki-duk’s latest dark cinematic night of the soul. That might come across like a conversation ender, but Kim is only getting started. It might sound like a remake of Caligula, but Kim has actually crafted the most dysfunctional family drama perhaps ever. It is also an art film. Truly, there are no words for the dialogue-free Moebius (trailer here), available today on DVD from RAM Releasing.

There are no names in Moebius either, making it all extra archetypal. Increasingly unhinged by her husband’s open philandering with the corner store lady, the mother takes a knife to the father, hoping to give him the Bobbitt treatment. After he successfully fights her off, she storms into their sleeping son’s room, venting her wrath on his manhood instead. When she flees into the night, the father is left to pick up the pieces as best he can—emotionally speaking.

Out of solidarity, he will undergo surgery to match his son’s condition. Logically, he loses all interest in his former mistress, but the mercilessly bullied son is irresistibly drawn to her corner store. At one point, when a gang of thugs saves him from a pack of school bullies, he is subsequently forced to be complicit in their rape of the shopkeeper. However, even greater transgressions await the audience in the third act.

If there is a taboo Kim misses in Moebius, it must be getting relatively normalized in Korea. Here he calls and raises the incestuous themes of Pieta with castration, erotic self-mutilation, and sexual violence, while completely eschewing spoken dialogue. Frankly, it probably works better that way, because once characters start using certain terminology, it necessarily creates a lurid or clinical atmosphere, whereas Moebius is genuinely distinguished by its vibe of overpowering madness.

Obviously, it is a challenge to play such tortured characters without the benefit of words. For Lee Eun-u, it is doubly tricky, because she plays the dual role of the mother and the mistress. Looking and veritably becoming two entirely different people, she gives two very distinct but equally harrowing performances. Likewise, Seo Yeong-ju is a quiet cauldron of resentment and neuroses as the son. Stuck in the passive role, Jo Jae-hyeon’s is largely overwhelmed on-screen, by design. As a fictional family unit, they could not be any sicker, but as an ensemble they remarkably compatible, adroitly turning each new jaw-dropping outrage.

It is hard to imagine anyone anywhere ever sitting down for a repeat viewing of Moebius. However, it is a serious film that every film critic and scholar will eventually have to deal with. Arguably, it never feels remotely as excessive in-the-screening-moment as it sounds on paper, but it is most certainly not for mainstream audiences.

Moebius was already notorious before its first international festival screenings, because of the many rounds of cuts it went through before passing muster with the Korean film rating authority (have no fear, we have the real deal here). Although we abhor censorship of any kind, in this case one has to wonder not what bits were they forced to cut, but what exactly were the parts they were willing to keep.


By now, you should know good and well whether Moebius is for you. It is an awfully well made film that will have you shaking your head in utter disbelief in where it is willing to go. That is certainly a memorable cinematic experience, but it is only recommended for the most daring and defiant cineastes out there. For those adventurous souls, the uncut (so to speak) Moebius is now available on DVD from RAM Releasing.

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