Moebius review

Kim Ki-duk’s life took an unexpected diversion in 2008 after an incident on the set of his film Dream almost led to the hanging of one of the actresses. The director retreated to a remote location to work through his feelings about the incident, and this led to his part-documentary feature Arirang, an occasionally fascinating, but also torturous, experience.

But regardless of its merits as a film, one thing that Arirang seems to have done is charged up Ki-duk’s filmmaking energies and he’s since made two more features: Pieta in 2012 and now Moebius. His films have often been somewhat controversial, with even his more innocuous films coming under fire for animal cruelty, but these latest two seem to be hellbent on busting taboos, taking a very graphic approach to button-pushing themes as read and then spinning off from there.

Moebius is primarily a family drama, but to explore the relationships between father (Cho Jae-hyun), mother (Lee Eun-woo) and teenage son (Seo Young-joo), Ki-duk takes things to the absolute extremes and heightens the situation hugely with disturbing sexual violence and incest.

The film launches into such scenes almost immediately, with the mother – we never learn the characters’ names – discovering the father’s philandering and attempting to cut off his penis. When he wakes up and stops her, she then panics and cuts off her son’s penis instead. What follows is a subversion of the Oedipus narrative, including gang rape, penile transplantation and sexual gratification through self-harm.

And it’s also kind of a comedy, albeit one so black that even Spinal Tap would struggle to define it.

Moebius brings to mind the more extreme, prankster side of Lars von Trier and the unfettered ludicrousness of Francois Ozon’s early work, Sitcom in particular. It can be a disturbing and uncomfortable film to watch at times, but it is also a film made with wit and intelligence. Sadly Ki-duk doesn’t perhaps target these smarts on anything much beyond a deeply unsettling drama, and thematically the film doesn’t really go far beyond its simplistic Greek tragedy root. Nonetheless, there’s certainly enough to keep an audience engaged throughout the ninety minute running time.

Interestingly, Ki-duk chose to shoot the film entirely without dialogue, with just a little on-screen text and some conversations that are seen but not heard. All we hear from the cast are muffled groans, screams and yelps. They do extraordinary work considering this constraint, and the film is structured so that you always have a clear understanding of the characters’ emotional states and what’s going on within the narrative.

The three actors play four roles, incidentally, with Lee Eun-woo playing two, though you’d be hard pressed to tell.

Unfortunately, Ki-duk has decided that his film be shot in perhaps the most infuriating way possible, with a lot of shaky, handheld camerawork that never clearly communicates anything other than a sense that the operator, which was reportedly actually Ki-duk himself, doesn’t quite know what they’re doing. But this cinematography does add an extra level of frustration to a deliberately off-putting film, and so I did wonder, perhaps, if it was somehow meant as a whole other level of agitation for the audience.

Moebius sees Kim ki-duk going ‘full Oedipal’, and while it’s not for the faint-hearted or easily shocked, he just about manages to make something worth our while.

Moebius is out in UK cinemas from the 8th of August.