I do love me some Korean drama films. Oh yes, I do. When I first learned about Ki-duk Kim it was in 2003 with his film "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring". That film also happens to be the perfect introduction to his work. Easily it is one of the most accessible, the most poignant, and in concept one of the easiest of his work to follow. Now 10 years later I am still a big fan of his work,, everything of his I will see, and he has to be my top Korean director.
"Moebius" is definitely not beginner type material. One must understand the ideas behind his films. There are many recurring motifs in his films, as well as in the philosophy behind them. So what I'm going to do is give a brief synopsis, then I'll talk about the ideas, the philosophy, and the meanings behind these plot devices. I will mention at this point that "Moebius" is shot entirely without dialogue. So keep that in your head.
The plot concerns a family: husband, wife, and teenage son. It is clear from the first minute of the film that the husband is cheating on the wife, she knows it, and this has been going on a while. He is not doing anything to hide it, as her name displayed on his phone even has a heart next to it. We witness the wife watch later in the film as the husband has sex with his mistress in a car right outside of the building where they life. That night the wife has had enough, so she takes a knife and goes into the bedroom. She tries to put off her husband's penis, but he stops her, slapping her. She then goes into her son's room. Earlier she saw her son masturbating, and thinking that he would grow up to be the same as his father, she instead cuts off his penis (first theme: hurt the innocent).
The looks from the doctor to the husband tell us that his son is now disfigured. The father's mistress comes around again, and the father does not want to see her anymore. In fact, in the next scene, we witness him going to the hospital to have himself castrated (next theme: self sacrifice).
A fellow schoolmate witnesses that the son can no longer urinate, and sees the mutilated penis. This schoolmate and his friends start to torture the son, later exposing his penis and laughing at him. The son soon finds the shop where his father's mistress works, and she exposes herself to him and comes onto him. The son later is tortured by the schoolmates outside of the mistresses shop, and a gang of older guys stops the schoolmates, but then rape the mistress. In the meantime, the father has taken to the internet, and has found out that people can achieve orgasm by hurting themselves: by rubbing stones against their flesh, they can achieve orgasm (theme: pain is pleasure).
To sum things up, the son and the mistress start to have a relationship, once the son learns from his father that with pain he can orgasm. The father finds, on the internet, that penis transplants have been successful, and we see the son going into surgery. However, the son's new penis cannot become aroused, and he cannot orgasm any more. Then, the mother returns.
This is where the movie goes to extremes. In fact, the next theme is that going to extremes is sometimes the only way to communicate. And the similar theme, that underlying these extreme overreactions and these extremes in behavior, there is a sick, twisted comedy. It is not a comedy which the persons going through it can see, in fact we as the audience can almost not see it, but there is a bizarre otherworldly comedy to the next few events. SPOILERS.
The mother goes to her son, and holds him. As she strokes his face, the son gets an erection (this is another two themes: repulsion is arousal, and the flesh knows). Seeing this, the mother looks in horror at the husband, and it is then that we know the husband has donated his penis to his son. Pulling down the husband's pants, the wife's face confirms this. It is then that the wife decides to pleasure her son. This is a theme, again: everyone has a role to play, everyone has a duty to perform. As well, everything must come full circle. An image of a mobius is a twisted loop, and since that is the title of the film, we know that every action taken in this film must come full circle. So the father listens later as the wife masturbates her son, and later as she goes into his room, disrobes, and approaches him with the intent to have sex with him. The father does stop this, tearing her off of him and taking her away. It is then I knew there could be only one way for this film to end. They know it as well. She watches, no trace of horror on her face, as he loads his gun with three bullets, one for her, one for himself, and one...for the penis.
I love this movie. I want to talk about that themes now. Spoilers will still be present.
1) Hurting the innocent/destruction of innocence: Since the boy in this film was victim of his mother's rage, she must make amends to him. It is for this reason that she must later make the sacrifice of herself, as well as the sacrifice of giving him the orgasm. It must come full circle.
2) Self sacrifice: all of Ki-duk's films have this theme, usually. The father had to make amends for his betrayal to his wife, and to his son. Since his actions got the son mutilated, it is his duty to sacrifice his sex, his testicles, immediately. Later when they learn of the penis transplants, it is his role to donate his penis, render himself gender-less, as a self sacrifice to his son.
3) Pain is pleasure: it is a firm idea that just like people find happiness in misery, they find pleasure in pain. Another theme I thought of is that what is life, without suffering? What can we do, to experience pleasure and joy, if we have not experienced pain, suffering, and loss? Once must take the good with the bad, know them for what they are, and revel just as much in the pain as in the pleasure. You must accept and be thankful for them both.
4) Extremes of communication, and the comedy of extremes: this film is shot in a very specific way. While the characters are suffering, while there is abundant pain, there is also stupidity, comedy, and silliness. Early in the film, while the husband and wife are wrestling over the phone he has received a call from his mistress on, the feet of the wife and husband are rubbing up against each other's faces, getting toes in their mouths, etc. Later, while the family of three all fights in the son's room once the wife needs to have sex with her son, The expressions, the suffering, is so over the top that one almost cannot help but laugh. It is intentional. Because life is so stupid, the things that happen to us are so ridiculous, you must be able to laugh at yourself, at the situations you are put in. Just like you can look back on a horrible part of your life and laugh about it, this film is saying that you must look at the situation these characters are in, and you must laugh at them.
5) Repulsion is arousal, the flesh knows: simply put, just like pain is pleasure and suffering is comedy; repulsion is arousal. The son's and wife's disgust at incest, the disgust in their desire for each other, is the reason for their arousal. Similarly, the penis knows. The flesh knows is in a lot of Ki-duk films, and it simply means that the penis, having belonged to the husband, who had an attraction to the wife, is still aroused by the wife. Also, once the son got the penis, he could not achieve erection from the mistress: the cheating penis cannot orgasm with that woman any more, hence they cannot be together.
6) everyone has a role to play and a duty to perform: This is sort of a generalization that you must accept with this film. Otherwise you'll question why the wife would masturbate her son, why the mistress would pleasure the son, why the father would kill himself and the wife. They must because it is their role. It is the husband's duty to have sex with the wife. Since he was failing his duty and rather having sex with the mistress, it is his role now to sacrifice himself to his wife. However since the wife mutilated the son, it is her role now to "make right". Since she is now able to give him an erection, it is her role to follow through and give him the orgasm that only she can give. Since the penis is given by the father, and it has sinned by having sex with the mistress, it is the role of the penis to be sacrificed, which is why in the end the son shoots the penis with the gun. This includes the idea of the mobius, everything must come full circle. The last shot in the film is the son, who we obviously would not know if he was alive or dead after the gunshot, and he is worshiping a statue of Buddha from the house he lived in.
The son in this shot is honoring their sacrifice, as well as closing the circle. The lying, cheating father is gender-less and dead, the vengeful mother has died to apologize for mutilating the son. The penis, destroyed. This brings up another theme I just thought of: acceptance. The mother accepted her role as the sexual provider for her son upon witnessing his erection. As she masturbated her son, a tear flowed from her eye. Was it from disgust or joy? The disgust that she must masturbate her own son, or the joy that she is able to finally repay this crime she has done against him?
Be warned, this movie is truly not for everyone, but I think if you watch it for these themes, you will appreciate it. It is masterfully shot, as always, by Ki-duk, amazingly acted, and just amazing. Also, really, just amazing breasts in it, some of the best on film I'd say. Hehehe.