Directed by Kim Jee-Woon
Starring Song Kang-ho, Lim Soo-jung, Oh Jung-se, Krystal Jung, Park Jeong-su, Jeon Yeo-been, and Jang Young-Nam
In the 1970s, Director Kim is obsessed by the desire to re-shoot the ending of his completed film Cobweb, but chaos and turmoil grip the set with interference from the censorship authorities, and the complaints of actors and producers who can’t understand the re-written ending. Will Kim be able to find a way through this chaos to fulfill his artistic ambitions and complete his masterpiece?
I Saw the Devil director Kim Jee-Woon returns with this Knives Out-style knockabout farce which focuses on the events of a chaotic film-shoot, and turns out to be exactly as fun and entertaining as that summary sounds. Cobweb peers behind the bolted doors of a Korean film studio in the 1970s as a director aims to course-correct his legacy by re-shooting the ending of his latest shlock-horror in order to make his masterpiece.
The concept is hardly a new one. Employing the Rashomon effect in order to juggle the multiple threads of a large ensemble is a frequently used narrative device. One Cut of the Dead perfected it with a very similar behind-the-scenes plot. And so Kim needs to ensure that his players are intriguing, and that the tangled web he weaves is worth sticking with, which he does with aplomb.
There’s an immediate hook with the historical framing of the country’s filmmaking politics in the ’70s, with movies needing to be submitted to a board in order to ensure that they meet with Korean values or the government propaganda. Of course it means that we get the archetype of the stuffy executive attempting to shut-down the set, but the context adds that little bit more weight to the drama that bubbles under the laughs.
Most of that can be found in the performance of Song Kang-ho (Broker), who layers his character with the kind of sadness that has become his trademark over the past few years. He is the totem around which the movie revolves, which also means that he also gets to play the clown, and hit the emotional notes when secrets begin to spill out in the film’s wonderfully unhinged final act. It’s a performance indicative of the entire film; difficult to second-guess and constantly surprising.
There’s a lot to love about the entire cast. Krystal Jung is terrific as the film-within-a-film’s leading lady, who has to juggle her disdain for the two-day reshoot with a prima-donna desire to be the best on set, all while hiding secrets of her own. Jang Young-Nam’s Chiarwoman Baek unravels hilariously at the same speed as the plot, her stylish clothes and by-the-book ways are soon abandoned in favour of spiking drinks and bolting doors shut in order to protect the illegal shoot. And as director Kim’s staunchest supporter, Jeon Yeo-been steals the entire film with a delightfully unhinged performance that is also in perfect simpatico with the style of Cobweb.
As you’d expect, Kim utilises the sound-stage sets and storytelling devices in order to piece together the mayhem in a visually inventive, but always coherent manner. There’s a delight in seeing the puzzle fall into place as we witness the ‘masterpiece’ being made, with the black-and-white vignettes of the finished film acting as wonderful punctuation to the organised chaos that has come before it.
It can sometimes suffer from the very elements of filmmaking it’s sending up, but Kim Jee-woon’s Cobweb is a meticulous joy buoyed by an infectious energy. Full of smarts, misdirects, and so many delightful giggles. A big recommendation.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie ★ ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter