Sunday, October 26, 2014

With MOEBIUS and its family that practices penectomy, Kim Ki-duk goes uber-transgressive

Penectomy? That's the official term for penis removal. (And, yes, I had to search Google to find out if there was even a word for this.) Now: What filmmaker can you quickly think of who might deal in a subject like this? That's right: South Korea's bad-boy movie-maker, Kim Ki-duk. If you guessed Japan's Sion Sono, who has a new film opening next week, you get at least partial credit. Both filmmakers are transgressive, but it seems to me that in Sono's work, the transgression always fills a deeper perspective, while Kim more often uses the transgressive for its own sake, which can sometimes makes his movies seem to exist only as a means to further push that envelope.

So it is with MOEBIUS, the latest Kim endeavor (the filmmaker is shown at right), in which a straying husband makes his wife so frustrated, jealous and angry that she tries to cut off her hubby's dick  He, of course, is having none of this and so knocks her flat. She then wanders into the room of their teen-age son (who of course just happens to be masturbating, having recently seen his father copulating with his mistress in the family car). Mom's anger rises all over again, and -- whack! -- sonny boy is missing something vital, while bleeding like the proverbial stuck pig.

Yes. I know. This WTF moment is just one of many more to come in a WTF film in which Mr. Kim goes over the top and simply stays there until we're laughing ourselves silly (or gagging on some of the grotesqueries). Still, one has to admire Kim's style. He grabs you and doesn't let go, and in this particular movie, he adds something new. (For him at least. I remember a similar stunt being pulled off in The Thief, a 1952 film I saw and was impressed with as an eleven-year-old kid.)

I am not going to tell you what this special addition -- or actually, a subtraction -- is, because after around 20 minutes, it suddenly hit me what was going on here, and I mentioned it aloud to my spouse, who had not yet noticed its absence. This is due absolutely to Kim's abilities as a filmmaker. So assured is this guy that he can hold you for the entire 89 minutes and not have you object to the missing thing at all.

His cast is also very game, and he gets indelible performances from each of them. As the randy dad, Jo Jae-hyeon (above) proves the picture of infidelity morphing into guilt, while Seo Young-ju as the son (two photos below, and at bottom left), offers plenteous evidence that nuttiness is probably genetic as much as learned. And, as the crazed wife, Lee Eun-woo (below) is, well, memorably bonkers and such a grand rendition of the mother-from-hell that even Joan Crawford might be impressed.

After the initial snipping and bleeding, there comes more. Much more. And then dad's girlfriend gets involved with the family son, and we -- and the male family members -- learn all about new ways to achieve orgasm sans penis but with pain. When mom at last returns to the fold, we're ready for just about anything. And that's what we get.

However, all this does not make Moebius a very good movie. It may be impressive in what it accomplishes transgression-wise, but it is finally a rather empty exercise in hugely deviant behavior that does not edify in any way. (Sion's films somehow manage to do this, but it would take a better critic than I to explain exactly why. With Sion, the transgression is part of a bigger picture; for Kim it's the be-all-and-end-all.)

Kim exults in the deviancy and splatter, the horror and pain, and while he manages to take us places we've never been (with people we're not very likely to meet or know), in the end he just goes a bit more over the top. If that's all you want, look no further. (His most recent narrative film prior to this one, Pieta, while transgressive and shocking, had a lot more to offer.)

Moebius, from RAM Releasing, enjoyed a very brief theatrical run in three cities back in August. It becomes available on DVD this Tuesday, October 28, and if history be any guide, it will probably be streaming via Netflix, soon or eventually.

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