TIFF13: Moebius (2013)


Son (Seo Young-ju) witnesses the violence of his parents.

There’s a certain type of sicko that’ll love Moebius for all the wrong reasons. It’s a disgusting film, easily one of the sickest I’ve ever seen. But there is a method to the madness and a pitch-black humour lurking behind it all. I understand why it was programmed in the Masters section of this year’s TIFF. Kim Ki-duk may be insane, but he’s certainly a filmmaker in masterful control of his craft.

The plot is simple — very simple. In an effort to save readers from the more disgusting details, I’ll describe only the first ten minutes, which give a fairly concrete overview of what viewers are in for with this film. Father (Cho Jae-hyun) is having an affair with a woman who works at the minimart (Lee Eun-woo). Mother (also Lee) knows about this and attempts to castrate Father. She fails, and in her madness, she castrates her Son (Seo Young-ju). A distraught Father has his own penis amputated and put on ice so that it can eventually be implanted on his Son. Thus begins Moebius’ exploration of sexuality full of castration, incest, and rape.

The most remarkable thing about Moebius is its clarity of storytelling. The film isn’t silent, but it lacks any dialogue. Everything is communicated through gestures, looks, through Kim’s cinematography. For a film where every action has a double meaning, we are never left wondering the purpose of actions or their motivation.

We’re also never confused about the humourous intent behind most of the action. The things these people do to each other are sick, but they’re also absurd and exaggerated to comical extent. I was reminded of the films of John Waters. Kim is intending to shock and entertain. However, unlike Waters, Kim has no looseness to his filmmaking. He is precise and technically certain. He makes films fast, but there is exact intent behind every frame.

Still, this isn’t a brilliant film by any means. Like the moebius strip of the title, the film bends back upon itself too many times. There are too many scenes of Father researching “orgasm without penis” on the Internet, too many scenes of Son trying to climax with the help of his father’s mistress, too many scenes of Son anxiously looking down at his crotch in desperation. There is a symbolic subtext that is too often forcing itself to the front of the film. At moments, Moebius makes some interesting comments about the relationship between sexuality and pain, but they’re not exactly subtle statements.

With Moebius Kim Ki-duk further cements himself as a provocateur and an exceptional storyteller. Perhaps the meaning behind his most recent film is grasping too far, trying too hard for the profound, but it’s a hell of provocation. It’s a midnight movie for the intellectual viewer with a twisted sense of humour. Those expecting madness will not be disappointed.

6 out of 10

Moebius (2013, South Korea)

Written and directed by Kim Ki-duk; starring Cho Jae-hyun, Seo Young-ju, and Lee Eun-woo.

Moebius played on Sept. 12 and 13 and plays again on Sept. 15 during the Toronto International Film Festival as part of the Masters program.

About Aren

Aren likes big movies and he likes small movies. He'll sing the praises of the latest Hollywood sci-fi epic while simultaneously lambasting people for not getting into Hong Kong cinema. He detests egotism in film and film criticism, but is a sucker for earnest spectacle. While he tends to skew more modern in his viewing choices, he thinks film looks best in black and white, especially when directed by Akira Kurosawa. His favourite genres are science fiction and animation, but he'll watch anything so long as it's interesting. He's a prairie boy, born and raised. When he's not writing about movies, he's making them. You can watch his 2013 sci-fi short QUANTOM here: http://vimeo.com/66512643. His email is arenbergstrom@gmail.com. His favourite movies are 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), BEN-HUR (1959), BLUE VELVET (1986), THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001), MINORITY REPORT (2002), PSYCHO (1960), RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981), SEVEN SAMURAI (1954), SPIRITED AWAY (2001), and STAR WARS: EPISODE VI - RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983). His favourite directors are Hayao Miyazaki, Akira Kurosawa, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, James Cameron, David Cronenberg, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Terrence Malick, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, and Johnnie To.