Dir/scr: Kim Ki-duk. South Korea. 2013. 91mins
Kim Ki-duk has never been one to mince his words and he is not about to start now, at this advanced stage of his career. In any case, there are no words to mince here, since not even one is uttered in the course of the entire film, a schematic portrait of family life in hell that could have as easily been entitled Sex: Crimes And Punishments. The title itself refers to the Moebius comic strip, in which the film’s characters can travel always forward, only to reach at the end of the journey at their point of departure.
Ultimately, if taken seriously, this is a cautionary tale about crimes coming back to haunt and punish the ones that committed them.
One thing is clear. Whatever contemplatively philosophical mellowing that seemed to be in the air for Kim Ki-duk after Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring… - already dissipated by last year’s Pieta, which took the Golden Lion to everyone’s surprise - is now buried completely in this gruesome tale of a bloody, vicious circle of sexual frenzy, jealousy and outrageous violence.
Definitely not for the faint at heart, though it seems a slightly abbreviated version being prepared for distribution after Venice might make it palatable for a wider audience.
This bare-boned tale has four main characters but none of them has a name, no one speaks and no psychological motivations are suggested. There is Father (Cho Jae-hyun) who has an affair; Son (Seo Young-ju), a shy adolescent watching his parents tear each other apart; Mother, driven mad by her jealousy and The Other Woman, who ends up having affairs with both father and son.
The two female characters are played by the same actress, Lee Eun-woo. Father sleeps with The Other Woman, Mother grabs a knife and tries to emasculate him and failing, vents her rage on her Son who loses his manhood in the process. Mother runs away, Father takes Son to hospital to be told there is nothing he can do, Son is the butt of his colleagues’ jokes when they discover the nature of his wound, Father searches the web for a miracle that will restore the Son’s sex life, the Son, in the meantime, pays a visit to The Other Woman but runs away when she indicates her readiness to go with him all the way, which would be beyond his powers.
And that’s barely the first act of a tragedy featuring multiple rapes, incest, sex transplants, orgasm by pain, and a riot of a scene in which a severed penis is driven over by busy traffic in the middle of the day. All of which may sound like anything from horror movies to madcap comedy, though both options are miles away from Kim’s intentions.
Ultimately, if taken seriously, this is a cautionary tale about crimes coming back to haunt and punish the ones that committed them. Father, whose betrayal triggered the whole process, ends castrated by his own hand while the Son gets another sex organ but his virility shows up only in the presence of his Mother who comes back for the second half of the film.
Having the same actress play both women in the life of Father and Son (a tour de force performance by Lee Eun-woo) refers not only to the old Freudian concept that every boy is in love with his mother but also that Other Women are usually spitting images of the legitimate wives.
As usual, Kim has been doing practically everything on the set, from production, through direction, script, cinematography and editing. Probably the one and only way to make sure that no one will divert his intentions. Having decided to do away with dialogues, he directs his actors in the best tradition of silent movies, excessive expressions, unsubtle body language to prevent any misunderstandings and the camera always underlining them that much farther.
Sudden violence is of course nothing new in a Kim Ki-duk film, but there is also authentic grace in the midst of these ghastly proceedings, courtesy of The Other Woman, her sincere sympathy for the Son in his plight and her impotence to help him. As for the concept of pain substituting orgasm, beyond whatever physiological basis it has in reality, offers an interesting moral equation between the two of them. The final shot even suggests that peace and contentment are possible only when sexual lust is gone once and for all. Easier said than done.
Production companies; Kim Ki-duk Film Production
International sales: Finecut, www.finecut.co.kr
Producer: Kim Soon-mo
Cinematography/editor: Kim Ki-duk
Production designer: Hong Zi
Music: Park In-young
Main cast: Cho Jae-hyun, Seo Young-ju, Lee Eun-woo