Moebius is not easy to describe by definition. August Ferdinand, the renowned German mathematician, created and christened the “moebius strip” as a surface with only side and one boundary, which means it is a mathematical property devoid of orientation. Many simply think of it as a loop: a flexible, infinite, rubber band.
In the case of writer/director Ki-duk Kim, Moebius (South Korea, 2013) is a drama not akin to a “circular argument” of illogical fallacy fame, but something karmic: what goes around comes around. In Moebius, we have Father (Jae-hyeon Jo), who has cheated on his wife (Mother, played by Eun-woo Lee, who also plays Mistress), which has not only left her scorned and hostile, but the tension and continuous emotional percolation has affected their impressionable and coming of age, Son (Young-ju Seo).
Originally banned in South Korea, possibly due to a negative look on the family, Moebius has developed a cult following for several reasons. This drama is multi-thematic and thus multi-layered, and serves as warning for fathers to maintain face (honor) and not to destroy their family from within. After all, innocents, like Son, may have no way of coping with seeing their family come undone, and Mother’s who feel betrayed can rightfully broil over with their anger.
Due to the infidelity and for being played a fool, Mother attempts to cut off Father’s penis with a knife, and once thwarted, enters her son’s room. The implication is that once the Son sees what the head of the household can do, and get away with, at least momentarily, this may inspire him to do the same when he becomes a man. In this way, Mother’s pre-emptive strike can protect women of the same fate – thus ending the cycle, or circle, or August Ferdinand’s moebius, from continuing.
What follows is a tale that explores the corruption of innocence, the discovery of pleasure through pain, the handling of jealousy and guilt, and the righting of wrongs via destruction. To go into detail would ruin the intense narrative, which must be seen to be believed since it is truly a unique story.
Like his fellow Korean counterpart, Chan-wook Park (Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, and Stoker), Kim brings audiences a fresh look on traditional tales and genre stories, and has entranced viewers with The Isle, Time, 3-Iron, and much more. His approach to cinema brings a fresh eye to drama, where boundaries are always crossed, if not annihilated, and each new scene is a guessing game of “What could possibly happen next?” Quite often, developing a theory for how Kim’s films will end proves to be a fruitless endeavor.
Regardless of the themes and surreal approach to storytelling, Moebuis exemplifies Kim’s commitment to having quality actors bring life to the characters which inhabit the film. Jae-hyeon Jo has appeared in a number of Kim’s films, and brings a cool intensity to his role as Father, though he can explode into something fierce, or buckle into a mess if need be. Most important, especially in Moebius, as with Eun-woo Lee, body language and the look behind the eyes says so very much. For her part, Lee plays both Mother and Mistress with verve. Both characters are clearly different, and Lee undergoes an array of emotions for each persona that must have left her exhausted off set. Her facial expressions and dramatic depth is intense and always revealing in naked emotion.
To complement the acting, Kim’s cinematography keeps us in every moment as if Moebius is an intimate play. The camera often focuses on the family, without long shots or one’s that denote setting, which reflects that the family is trapped in a world of their own doing. Since Mistress slept with Father, she is also part of their world, and the camera stays close to her as well.
In a film like this, where no dialogue exists, sound is paramount. However, unlike David Lynch’s Eraserhead or Blue Velvet, or Hélène Cattet’s and Bruno Forzani’s The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears, where sound can be distorted and overwhelm or supplant the visual, Seung-yeop Lee chose to keep things straight-forward and honest, as if to ground the subtle yet surreal nature of the narrative. Otherwise, In-young Park’s original music enhances the visuals without being over-indulgent or interruptive.
Kim and company have delivered an unforgiving and disturbing drama of infidelity, incest, and indiscretion in an incredible manner. The film is riveting and scenes will remain with you for a lifetime. Love it or hate it, when Kim’s story comes full circle, you’ll definitely be left with something to talk about.
4.5 out of 5 stars
You can more of Bill’s writings and the podcast he co-hosts with Jonny Numb, The Last Knock here: Crash Palace Productions