Monday, April 7, 2014

Moebius (2013)

*** Parental Advisory and Spoiler Warning: This review contains some graphic detail including some mild spoilers about the film that may not be suitable for younger readers. ***

How does one even begin to write about something like "Moebius"! Long after the film has ended you feel the need to shake off that sick feeling. You know, the kind of feeling you get when you realize a rat just happened to scurry by and its hairy skin momentarily touched your feet. Then once you have regained your composure you try to think back and process all that happened on screen and try to make sense of it in your boundaries of rationality. Your jaw aches and facial muscles slightly hurt, because you realize you have been cringing constantly and squirming in your seat, at the same time, letting out nervous laughs and yet have not been able to walk out of this 85 minute, vile mayhem! You shudder for a while and think that you have issues in the head and are beginning to actually enjoy all the perversity the Korean madman Kim Ki-duk dishes out for you!

It is better to get the premise out of the way so that the reader can decide if this film is for him/her. It all begins one day when the character credited as Mother (Lee Eun-Woo) catches her husband, the Father (Cho Jae-Hyun) cheating on her with a local store girl. In a fit of rage and frustration over his cheating ways, she attempts to do a Lorena Bobbitt on him; yes, tries to chop off his penis, but fails to do so! However, the anger still boils over and then she does it to her teenaged Son (Seo Young-Joo) instead, and before anyone could do anything about it, she eats up his chopped member and escapes into the night!

If at this point you feel the need to go and regurgitate now, it is understandable. Just know, the film is not for you. Others, read on.....!

What follows then, is an unimaginably mad circus of emasculation, incest, rape, and twisted revenge, with liberal doses of some of the nastiest displays of sadomasochism ever! It may appear that all the characters in this film are perpetually horny, but the film's focus is mostly on the human libido, the deprivation of it, and a quest for finding it again! What prevents "Moebius" from becoming a cheap C-grade snuff film posing as an art-house drama is Kim Ki-duk's treatment and some very intelligent and intense writing, still revolving around some of the most debased material ever! 

What's unique about the film is how Kim Ki-duk infuses tender warmth in a situation that is unquestionably tragic, and yet manages to evoke nervous laughs around it. After all, what could be more sorrowful and humiliating for a man than losing his manhood? You tend to express deep sympathy when the other boys make the teenaged son a butt of jokes and harass him. You tend to feel sorry when the poor father sacrifices his own penis and decides to preserve it after some careful research, in order to transplant on his son, for he somehow feels responsible for his loss! 

Meanwhile, both penis-less men bond over their loss while the father does extensive research on trying to achieve sexual gratification without genitals and succeeds in finding a technique that involves mutilation of one's own skin with a stone! And then there's the gang rape in which the son gets unwittingly dragged into, and its terrifying aftermath that gives way to some laugh out loud situations including a chase scene that involves genitals flung in the air! But the real icing on the cake is seen when the demented wiener chopping mother returns and gives this moebius strip its final shape!

"Moebius" breaks all barriers and goes all out, way beyond and raises the bar when it comes to the vileness quotient in all of the extreme Asian cinema. The film has gained notoriety for walkouts during its Venice Film Festival screening, and one viewer apparently vomited on his way to the exit! Indeed, one has to have the kind of stomach and an iron will to endure the relentless barrage of completely over the top displays of revulsive acts beyond the normal, sane human intellectual capacity. 

Most of the events are grounded in reality and yet extremely absurd to the level of being hilarious. This is the kind of film that revels in its unflinching display of sexual violence and accompanying absurdity. The comedy is of course, the kind that is intentional but not in the conventional way. This is Kim Ki-duk having fun with his audiences. It is him being a total imp, making us watch something so revolting and have fun at the same time, daring us to touch that stop/pause button.

He also makes us think and gives us front row seats to take a good look at the characters and their motivations. These are people from a normal middle class family of three, the bigger picture of which appears picture-perfect. As for the mistress of the father, she is a girl so unabashed in her ways, she doesn't mind offering herself to the father as well as his son! Despite the recklessness of the characters' actions, in the end it all makes sense in the Kim Ki-duk way, as he very slyly adds an enigmatic spiritual angle as a fitting moral of the story of sorts in at least two instances which connect the entire chaos to a teaching in Buddhism!

What's more, you don't even miss the dialog which this film is entirely devoid of! There is no spoken word, only noises made by characters; screams, gasps, moans, sobs, sounds of being beaten up, and sounds of eating! The entire story is still conveyed with extraordinary ease, with not one instant being out of place or incomprehensible. The lack of dialog gives the film a more primal touch to go with its macabre events that wouldn't be as effective though, had it not been for the grade-A performances from the entire cast. Cho Jae-Hyun as the father expresses a range of emotions through his subtle expressions. 

The guilt of being the root cause of his son's tragic loss is palpable on his face. The teenaged actor Seo Young-Joo is another great asset to the film, delivering a winning performance as the meek, bullied, emasculated boy. It is Lee Eun-Woo who shocks and awes with her dual role as the mother as well as the mistress, very effortlessly slipping into the skin and makeup of these two disparate characters and winning the most accolades.

"Moebius" is a grueling film experience that may not exactly please or delight you. Chances are, an initial reaction may be a knee-jerk, writing it off for being vulgar, cheap, almost an exploitation snuff flick! But really, you will feel its power only long after it has ended. For Kim Ki-duk throws a dart laced with a drug at you that clings on, and the effect keeps lingering. You will spend hours and days, thinking about this rather affecting, darkly comic tragedy that will stick with you like a disease that you would rather hold on to for sometime than attempt to cure immediately. And when you process your thoughts, you know that while you haven't really seen the greatest film ever made, you indeed have witnessed something groundbreaking.

Score: 8/10

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