It was only last week that I reviewed Bin-jip, arguably Kim Ki-duk's most gentle-hearted film to date. This week I got to watch Moebius [Moi-bi-woo-seu], Ki-duk's latest offering and quite possibly the angriest film he's made so far. The contrast between the two is staggering, but at the same time there is an undeniable core that links the two together. Moebius is destined to become a divisive film even amongst Ki-duk fans, then again the film's a clear sign that Ki-duk still has the power to surprise and move his audience.
In between the release of Bi-mong and Arirang, Ki-duk (Hwal, Breath) crashed hard. His descent into depression is documented quite well in Arirang, but it's safe to say Ki-duk still harbours a lot of leftover anger. His films have always had a darker side, but since his return the balance has clearly shifted to rawer and more edgier films. If you thought Pieta crossed a few too many lines, Moebius probably isn't for you.
Thematically Moebius is an interesting film, the problem is that interpretations might vary wildly between people. Thanks to its harsh and uncompromising nature many see a negative message in the film, I beg to differ. The characters in Moebius seem to act irrationally, primordially even. As if their actions are free from social consequences and stigmas. The fact that they remain completely silent throughout is another strong indication of their uncultivated being. But as they spiral completely out of control, you could argue that Ki-duk's world is purely hypothetical, depicting a society without any norms or rules. Whether Ki-duk states this as a confirmation or as a looming reality is uncertain, fact is that Ki-duk seems to be reaffirming the importance of our human values as dictated by human society.
The story in which this all manifests itself is quite grotesque. Moebius follows a family of three. When the mother finds out about her husband's unfaithful behavior, she plans revenge. Unable to dismember her husband, she trots to her son's room and cuts off his penis instead. The mother takes off in shock, while dad and son rush off to the hospital to try and save whatever there is left to save. From there on things become only stranger and more grotesque, building up to a maddening and sickening final 30 minutes.
Even though Ki-duk is a festival regular (and winner), he still has trouble securing the proper funds for his films. Moebius suffers slightly from these budgetary restraints, though Ki-duk is talented enough to work around them for the larger part of the film. The night scenes in particular look great, the scenes indoor can be a bit murky and the hand-held camera work can look a bit unfinished at times. Still, overall this isn't a bad-looking film.
As always, the soundtrack in one of the stronger points of his films. Ki-duk has a way of picking remarkable themes that grow more intense with each time they return. Chilling, wordless vocals and minimal yet evocative melodies give the film that extra edge, pressing you deeper inside your chair and forcing you to fully take in the drama. Or how just one track can have a lasting impression and affect the mood of an entire film.
Ki-duk relies on a trio of actors to fill in the four lead roles. The mother and the mistress are played by one and the same person, which adds another layer of intrigue (even though they are made to not resemble each other directly). Acting in a Ki-duk film is never easy, but never before has he pushed his actors this far. Still they do a tremendous job conveying their actions and emotions without the help of a single line of dialogue. Not even one single word is uttered in these 90 minutes. The only minor (but very personal) quibble I had was with the father, who, from certain angles, reminded me of Jackie Chan. Enough to detract me just a little, but hardly the man's fault of course.
Ki-duk takes his story to extremes. I heard rumors of cuts where all the references to incest were removed from the film, yet I feel they are essential to the core of the story. It's just another example of the characters acting on their urges without worrying about any social or moral repercussions. People have been quick to yell that Ki-duk is simply aiming to shock, but as is always the case with his films there is more than meets the eye.
Reading up on the film, many have described it as a black comedy. I feel most (if not all) of the laughter is a direct result of unease with what is shown on-screen. There isn't much to laugh at really, unless it's the grotesque nature of the story that is making people laugh (much like crowds start laughing when horror films get too tense). I experienced Moebius as a pretty intense drama, a downwards spiral invoked by a family acting purely on their urges and instincts. It's definitely not a film for everyone, some people will definitely yearn for the Ki-duk of yonder, but if you accept Ki-duk's angrier side there is a wildly interesting film hidden beneath the emotional chaos. It's definitely not for the squeamish, but for me it sits proudly with the best films Ki-duk has made so far.