Moebius portrays a dysfunctional family in a situation that is taken to extremes. Independent, artistic and, yes, controversial, it was edited, shot, executive produced, written and directed by Kim Ki-duk and has a number of elements that reflect its maverick creator’s approach to film-making which – as perhaps can be expected – breaches normal protocols.
Family life is not good. Jealous and depressed, a wine slurping mother (Lee Eun-Woo) savagely attacks her husband (Cho Jae-Hyun) because he is apparently having an extramarital affair, their teenage son (Seo Young-Joo) silently enduring life in this household of hatred and violence. One evening, the mother becomes increasingly confrontational and decides to use a sharp knife to slash her adulterous spouse as he sleeps, aiming to sever his penis, but he fends her off. So instead she attacks her son, his bedsheets drenched with blood once his penis has been removed. He survives the attack but finds it difficult to adjust to a normal life. Outside the home, his condition becomes apparent to others and he is bullied, beaten and mercilessly mocked. Is there any chance of recovery and retribution? Can family life ever return to normal?
The subject matter and story line focussing on one family’s descent into utter revilement and acts of atrocity, are, of course, extreme in their execution, but Moebius isn’t simply an exploitation piece, it is a fascinating film that is thoughtfully constructed and occasionally moving. Beyond the family trio there are few other clearly defined characters who emerge in the tale, aside from the convenience store girl who has been having an affair with the father and later becomes involved with the son. In general, the film concentrates on focussing on the immediacy of the family’s predicaments and emphasising the savagery of relationships that have deteriorated to extremes, this violence spilling into the outside world in the context of savage beatings, group mockery and gang rape. To emphasise this delineation in a more unconventional way, Kim Ki-duk has created a film that is entirely dialogue free, increasing the intensity of the viewing experience precisely because the tale is told entirely in a visual context. The only notable text in the film is derived from viewing internet pages (in English) so that whilst the situations and implications are all too plain and well developed in their implementation, you never hear anyone speak – which means that their shouts and grunts and orgasms have an increased impact.
With a primary theme that can only be described as challenging, Moebius is not an easy watch. It does, however, make for compelling viewing. Moebius, unsurprisingly, had some issues getting distributed. The Korea Media Rating Board, the certification and censorship board in South Korea, initially banned the film but later it was passed, but only after over two minutes were cut. This isn’t the first time Kim Ki-duk has had issues regarding the viewing and distribution of his films. The Isle (1998) was cut in the UK whilst aspects of violence in a number of his films such as Bad Guy (2001) and 3-Iron (2004) caused consternation amongst some viewers. A fascinating director, Kim’s films are eclectic in their subject matter, often brilliantly executed, defying conventional narratives and constructions, and don’t simply lie in the realm of the extreme; he has also made the gently contemplative Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring (2003) and even re-imagined the directorial process itself in the existential self-reflective documentary Arirang (2011).
So controversy, sex, violence, blood, rape, incest and dismemberment are on show in this tight and controversial art-house shocker. Highly recommended.