Kim Ki-duk’s “MOEBIUS” (TIFF Movie Review)
Kim Ki-duk might be the most outrageous and provocative filmmaker working in South Korea, something not easily accomplished given the competition. Yet, despite all of the shock tactics that Ki-duk has pulled in the past, nothing comes close to the nightmarish glee with which he unleashes MOEBIUS. It’s a movie that walks the line between “like” and “respect.” You can’t really do the former without a certain level of self-deception, but the latter comes easily enough. It takes an equal balance of guts and insanity simply to launch a movie like this, so kudos to Ki-duk for doing so. As for the audiences who will be sucking it up through their eyeholes…well, you’ll never forget what you see here.
What’s MOEBIUS about? Well, in a word: castration. Specifically the film opens with a wife becoming so furious with her husband for cheating on her that she attempts the ol’ Lorena Bobbitt special. He fights her off though so, for reasons best known to herself, she takes out her castration impulses on her son and hides the evidence in her stomach. It’s worth mentioning that Korean Media Ratings Board banned the film from release. This is the same board that passed OLDBOY and I SAW THE DEVIL, yet I can see why this one was deemed a step too far. Flash forward a few weeks and the father is racked with guilt over how to return his son’s member. Meanwhile the son keeps engaging in a fruitless affair with a local lady shopkeeper that leads to imprisonment over a gang rape. The atrocities continue from there, with sadomasochistic knife sex, a father-son penile transplant, and the most unsettling family reunion in the history of film still to come.
Not a single word of dialogue is spoken in the film and, given the intensity of the imagery on display, it’s never necessary. Ki-duk is going for primal emotions and storytelling here. He’s tapping into the most unkind, uncomfortable subjects and themes and telling a story exclusively through them. To say it’s an uncomfortable watch is an understatement and yet, there are laughs. I’m still unsure if those laughs simply come in self-defense against the horrors on display or if Ki-duk laced the film with layers of morbid humor that even Todd Solondz would consider a bit much. Either way, those pockets of uncomfortable laughter are the only break offered in a truly horrific cinematic experience (though not specifically in the genre sense).
Somehow despite it all, the film is compulsively watchable. Kim Ki-duk certainly knows his way around a camera, possessing undeniable skill in manipulating audiences even if it’s to the point of provocation. It is impossible to tear your eyes away from MOEBIUS, and not just for the freak show element. The plot is carefully constructed so as never to lapse outside of plausibility, the acting is incredibly strong across the board, complex themes about sexuality in society are easily absorbed and even the silent format never feels like a gimmick. Things flow so smoothly that it’s never distracting for the film to be played without words and frankly, the images are so ghastly that there’s really nothing to be said. MOEBIUS is a movie impossible to experience without getting drawn in and disturbed, if only for the few minutes you sample before walking away. It’s a tough movie to recommend. Given what Ki-duck elected to explore, hating this particular film isn’t necessarily an inappropriate reaction. Still, there’s an endurance test quality to MOEBIUS that makes it something worth exploring for genre fans. Just don’t even consider making this one a date movie. It’s hard to think of a more disturbing project made in recent memory and is probably something best consumed alone.