There aren’t many filmmakers who would want – let alone have the capacity – to make audiences gag and guffaw in equal measure. Even fewer would attempt to elicit such reactions simultaneously. A smaller number still would envisage doing so with a blackly comic tale of castration, cannibalism, masturbation and incest. Fortunately, for those that way inclined, there is always Korea’s inimitable Kim Ki-duk, one of arthouse cinema’s most gloriously twisted provocateurs. Amongst the preoccupations that have filled his oeuvre, the duality of sex and violence has been a central one, and it rears its head in typically excruciating fashion in his latest nightmare, Moebius (2013), in cinemas this week.
Kim’s films often use dialogue sparingly, but his new offering plays out with not a single audible word. A view of humanity governed by instinctual urges is implied by imbuing his characters with this atavistic quality. After the first ten minutes, there is no suggestion necessary. This is the story of a dysfunctional family par excellence; a cheating father (Cho Jae-hyun), crazed mother (Lee Eun-woo), and their apathetic son (Seo Young-ju). The mother decides to take bloody revenge on her husband for his infidelity, but when denied she turns the knife on their son, lopping off his manhood before swallowing it and disappearing into the night. His father wants to donate his own penis for transplant, but with the procedure not yet perfected, he turns to the internet to find his son other ways to achieve orgasm.
In the meantime, the son has developed an infatuation with his father’s mistress (Lee again) and has been pressured into being involved in her gang rape, or at least simulating the act. In prison, his father brings to his attention a new form of gratification – self-abrasion until orgasm. Pain as stimulation grows all the more masochistic when he is freed and begins a sordid affair with the same woman he helped attack. Some of the film’s sequences are incredibly difficult to stomach, but they all amount to queasy damnation in Kim’s current run of work that seem to skew towards the ever more misanthropic. The director’s own comments regarding Moebius’ title outline his conceived conflagration of notions of family, desire and genitalia. Instead, the more readily apparent is the idea of pleasure and pain bending into one another.
The film’s ambiguous ending playfully contorts the narrative into a representation of the mathematical strip. All the while, Kim purposely aims to repulse and, at the same time, shoot for absurd humour. The overblown melodrama is brilliantly handled with the three actors providing enough gravitas to keep events as horrifying as they are hilarious. A companion piece to Kim’s last film – the Golden Lion-winning Pieta (2012), which shared its no-frills digital aesthetic – this arguably has more substance beneath its shocking veneer and definitely more levity. By no means is it for everyone, but Moebius is a devilish perversion that can be enjoyed even whilst averting one’s own eyes in utter revulsion.