My review of Ki-duk Kim’s “Moebius” at Fantastic Fest 2013

On Saturday, September 21, 2013 I attended the highly-anticipated US Premiere of Moebius at Fantastic Fest 2013 in Austin, Texas. The midnight screening took place at the brand new Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline.

There is one word to describe Moebius: daring. In its content, in its execution, and in its production. The story begins with a wife (Eun-woo Lee) catching her husband (Jae-hyeon Jo) cheating. Simple enough. She decides to exact revenge on him in a most unconventional manner. When she fails, she turns on their teenage son (Young Ju Seo). 

My promise to my readers is that you'll only find non-spoiler reviews here. This is one of those unique movies about which I can’t go into much more detail. It doesn’t happen too often but my message is always the same – it’s not hard to find a synopsis online if one wishes to do so. This is a film that is best appreciated without advance knowledge of the jilted spouse’s intentions. A couple of caveats, though. One, if you choose not to read up on it, be aware that the subject matter is quite raw and the images may be disturbing. Two, if you do take a look at a synopsis or other writeup, do not let the words scare you away. Many Fantastic Fest attendees skipped this one because they read the synopsis and freaked out. But they missed out. Most who did see the film said it was by far the best of the festival. Few saw it and did not place it at the top of their lists.        

Moebius is, ultimately, a stunningly beautiful and riveting coming-of-age story. Yes, an unconventional one, but no less powerful than many which tell a similar tale without the graphic subplot. A boy’s awkward first love, feeble attempts to move beyond his physical limitations to meet the emotional desires he feels, and learning how to balance the impetuousness of youth with the obligations of family bonds. There are merciless bullies and the compulsion to exact revenge, there’s disapproval from both family and friends, and the universal desire to love and be loved.

All this is told without a single line of dialogue. However, this is not a silent film despite the fact that no words are spoken. There is an audio track. But all we hear are the sounds of pleasure and pain. It’s one of the greatest singular achievements of any motion picture I’ve seen recently. And yet nothing seems to be lacking. Ki-duk Kim tells this story as effectively as if there were words. At some point the novelty falls away and one is left to create the dialogue in one’s own head. In fact, I dare say, it wasn’t even really noticeable at first. There Will Be Blood opens with almost 20 minutes of action without dialogue. Many don’t even realize it at the time. Some never do. Eventually words are spoken and the viewer may suddenly become aware that they just sat through the first reel of a film with only grunts and sound effects. In this case, the words never come in. But they aren’t missed. Everything that needs to be said is accomplished through facial expressions, emotive eyes, and the characters’ actions. This is how cinema began, and Ki-duk Kim shows us that it can still work.      

The shocking nature of this movie doesn’t stop with its onscreen images. In a rare feat in the world of cinema, Moebius is literally a one-man show for iconic South Korean filmmaker Ki-duk Kim. He is the director, writer, cinematographer, editor, and executive producer. This is the 18th narrative feature he’s written and directed. On most of these, he’s served as producer and editor – even production designer, set designer, art director, and cinematographer. He’s acted in several, too. Add in two documentaries and that leaves only three of his 23 pictures that he wrote but did not direct.

The father, Jae-hyeon Jo, is quite well known in his native country with close to 30 TV and film projects to his credit. Eun-woo Lee is a relative newcomer -- this is her sixth feature. 15-year-old Young Ju Seo won the Best Actor Award at both the 2012 Tokyo International Film Festival and Cinemanila International Film Festival for Juvenile Offender.    

Ki-duk Kim is one of the most celebrated filmmakers in modern times on the festival circuit, where he’s a household name. He’s been nominated for 33 awards and won 47 in his career, including the prestigious Silver Bear at the 2004 Berlin International Film Festival (for Samaritan Girl) and Un Certain Regard Award at Cannes 2011 (for Arirang). Venice has been very kind to him. He swept the 2004 Venice Film Festival, winning five awards for 3-Iron, and he repeated that feat last year at the 2012 Venice Film Festival, winning four awards for Pieta.              

Moebius premiered in Venice and had its North American debut at the Toronto International Film Festival (where I'd missed it) before arriving in Austin. Whether or not it ever opens in its native country remains to be seen. The Korea Media Rating Board gave it an R, which basically is a de facto ban as there are no theaters in South Korea that will play R-rated movies. In its decision, the Board said, “Moebius is a film that is only possible to screen in restricted theatres due to unethical, anti-social expression portraying sexual relations…and images and method of expression that includes content harmful to youth in terms of theme, violence, horror, and danger of imitation.” (I replaced a spoiler with an ellipsis.)

It would certainly be a shame if Moebius was not seen in the country that produced this awe-inspiring film. But this daring, provocative work will be out there for the rest of the world to see. If audiences can get past the shock inherent in the premise, they’ll find a gorgeously crafted, beautifully acted, and masterfully executed story about overcoming tragedy and finding hope and inspiration.

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NOTE: Moebius is tied for my #1 Top Pick of Fantastic Fest 2013. It has theatrical distribution in several overseas territories, including Greece, Turkey, Russia, Germany, and Italy. RAM Releasing will put the film in select theaters domestically beginning August 8th, 2014, followed by a VOD and DVD release on the 29th. 

The trailer is below along with several stills. It does NOT contain spoilers.


MOEBIUS Trailer | Festival 2013

South Korea's celebrated perennial provocateur Kim Ki-duk (Pieta) returns with this twisted family chronicle perched…
  • Video Release: August 20, 2013
  • Length: 1.72 min
  • Views: 8440



Author

Larry Richman

Larry Richman

For 20 years I was a professional in the entertainment industry, from commercial broadcast radio in America's fourth largest market to band management to record production. But my passion is independent film, and I spend much of the year traveling to film festivals to see indies and meet the actors, directors, and others responsible for creating them. I'm a writer, photographer, and videographer, currently serving as Senior Vice President for Media & Technology and Public Relations at PROnetworks as well as Editor at Larry411.com

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  • Author: Larry Richman
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