“At last year’s Venice Film Festival, the Golden Lion was won by Kim Ki-duk for Pietà, a drainingly horrible drama of maternal incest,” begins Robbie Collin. “This year, the South Korean prankster-provocateur has returned with Moebius, an abyss-black comedy on exactly the same topic. Normally I would offer a plot summary, but for this film, I doubt the Telegraph would publish it. So here is about as much as can be shared: a teenage boy (Seo Young-ju) is castrated, and his distraught father (Cho Jae-hyun, who starred in Kim’s 2001 film Bad Guy) offers him his own penis for a genital transplant. The operation is a wild success, with only one hitch: he is now sexually aroused by his mother.”
“Moebius is sordid,” grants Jon Frosch at the Atlantic, “yet—need I say it?—never dull. Kim, who notably made the quiet, meditative Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring, about a Buddhist monk and his protégé, keeps the dysfunction flowing at a steady pace. He also comes up with one truly original scene of coitus, in which the handle of a knife plunged into the protagonist’s shoulder serves as a substitute phallus for his missing organ. Moebius is sort of like a car accident: it induces queasiness (South Korea will release a censored version), but it’s hard to look away.”
“A gloriously off-the-charts study in perversity,” declares Variety‘s Leslie Felperin. “Just to prove what a daring formalist he is at heart, Kim has chosen to tell this story without a word of dialogue, unless you count gasps of pain and pleasure, of which there are rather a lot throughout. This means the characters are never named, and the English-language press notes describe them only as Father (Cho Jae-hyun, reuniting with Kim after their legendary collaborations on Address Unknown and Bad Guy), Son (teen thesp Seo Young-ju) and Mother, played by Lee Eun-woo, who, in a bravura feat of transformation, also plays another key role as the father’s younger mistress.”
“It’s a grim experience but one that isn’t too self-serious,” finds Pierce Conran, writing at Twitch. “Make no mistake about it, Moebius is an extremely difficult film that is destined to be hated (even reviled) by many. Yet for each that detests it, others will be taken in by its sheer force…. It doesn’t hurt that Kim’s direction finds ample humor in the macabre. A wild and courageous work from Korea’s enfant terrible, Moebius is one of the most powerful experiences of the year.”
In the Hollywood Reporter, Clarence Tsui notes “how the shock-and-awe narrative devices in Moebius basically rehash many a trope from Kim’s previous films: the sexually-assaulted woman turning the tables on her tormentor was first seen in Bad Guy; the relationship between physical pain and sexual gratification was from The Isle; the transference of identity through cosmetic surgery first came to the fore in Time; 3 Iron provided the template of the wordless story about middle-class excess and the use of phallic, metallic objects; the boy’s fantastical realization of subliminal feelings is akin to the nightmares endured by the characters in Dream. Unfortunately, Moebius never really looks like becoming a sum bigger than these parts.”
“As usual, Kim has been doing practically everything on the set, from production, through direction, script, cinematography and editing,” notes Dan Fainaru in Screen Daily. Kim “directs his actors in the best tradition of silent movies, excessive expressions, unsubtle body language to prevent any misunderstandings and the camera always underlining them that much farther.”
“When Kim does try to invest proceedings with actual pathos, as in the conclusion, it tends to fall flat,” finds Oliver Lyttelton at the Playlist. “And while you could argue it’s splitting hairs, the rape aspect feels genuinely misjudged, not so much for the scene itself (which fortunately isn’t played for laughs), but for Kim’s treatment of the Young Woman (there are hints she’s being punished for her extra-marital transgressions) and for the Young Woman’s attitude towards the perpetrators (more than one of whom are later rewarded with consensual sex). For all of the more graphic moments, it’s this that feels the most unpleasant.”
Having screened Out of Competition in Venice, Moebius heads to the Masters program in Toronto.
Update, 9/11: “Kim’s in complete tonal control, and it’s quickly clear that he intends Moebius as a sick, over-the-top comedy of the sort generally produced in America by Troma,” writes Mike D’Angelo at the Dissolve. “Kim’s efforts to make Moebius poignant as well as funny are considerably less successful, and he doesn’t quite come up with an ending (the film’s title signifies its narrative’s loop-de-loop), but the folks who stormed out of my screening in disgust early on missed some truly classic moments in world cinema, most notably a desperate struggle by two men to retrieve a severed penis from the middle of the road before it gets squashed. Those who won’t want to miss this know who they are. Everyone else has been warned.”
Update, 9/27: “It’s basically a picture about castration anxiety, as well as the implications of living in a society that perhaps puts too much of a premium on sexuality as a form of connection,” writes Kenji Fujishima at In Review Online. “Ultimately, it’s [a] willingness to dive into the muck along with his characters that makes Moebius add up to more than the sum of its extreme provocations.”
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