TIFF Review: Moebius (뫼비우스)

Moebius poster
Moebius poster

I left this review until the end – it’s the last of the reviews I’ve written about the five Korean films I watched at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) – for one simple reason: Kim Ki Duk’s (김기덕) films are insane. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a bit of a genius but man, do his films push boundaries. And Moebius (뫼비우스) was no different, although I found last year’s Pieta (피에타) more disturbing in some ways. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Now it’s time for the standard **warning** this review may contain spoilers… read at your own risk. And my own warning… this film and therefore the review, deals with subject matter that may be offensive to some readers.


A middle-aged man is having an affair. His creepy wife finds out and goes a lot crazy. When she doesn’t have any luck attacking her husband – and trying to cut off his penis – she goes after her teenage son and succeeds. Yep, she cuts off her son’s penis… and eats it – to hurt her cheating husband – before running off.

The father/husband spends a significant portion of the film trying to find ways for his son to climax without a penis finally coming up with a crazy pain/pleasure method. In the meantime, the son – after trouble at school – develops an unhealthy fascination with his father’s mistress. And the mother returns…

My Thoughts

I didn’t think it was possible to top Pieta but Moebius is odder, and pushes more boundaries than Pieta. However, I still stand behind Pieta being more disturbing – to me sexually assaulting a woman who you think might be your mother (Pieta) is creepier than a mother cutting off her son’s penis (Moebius). Not sure if the guys in the audience would agree because from the collective groaning, they definitely were feeling a ghost of the boy’s pain.

But the discussion on which film was more disturbing aside, it is extremely provocative, unusual, interesting, oddly (and a bit disturbingly) funny at times and incredibly hard to watch at others. Yep, all that in one 90 minute film. Kim Ki Duk is a master at crafting storylines that are so beyond what we normally see and even beyond what is comfortable to watch. Moebius will keep you wondering what the hell will happen next – so much so, that even as hard as it is to watch… you can’t stop.

And did I mention that the entire film is without words! Not a silent film as there are noises but there is no dialogue at all in the film which makes it easy to screen outside of Korea as there are no subtitles necessary. Despite the fact that there is not dialogue and the storyline is extremely unusual and convoluted, it’s not difficult to follow. Which sounds a little contradictory – how can it be convoluted and easy to follow the story?

Let me explain – by using the word convoluted, I don’t mean difficult but rather elaborate and outside of the norm. And the plot is by far the most incredible one – and one that touches on a number of bad behaviour (cheating, violence), sexually odd (climaxing without a penis), deviant (incest) and sexually evil (gang rape) topics – that I’ve ever seen. I don’t even know where to classify a sexual relationship between a teenage boy and his father’s mistress – bad behaviour, odd, deviant, evil? It would depend on his age. And yes, of all the horrible and messed up behaviour I witnessed in the film – that was what bothered me the most. She was an adult and I don’t know how old he was.

While the messed up relationship the son had with his father’s mistress bothered me, it wasn’t the hardest to watch. No, that honour goes to the crazy pain/pleasure method of climaxing we have to witness a few times. If only I could un-see that (I rank it right up there with the scene from Pieta where the main character feeds a part of his thigh to his supposed mother).

After reading all that you might think I didn’t like the film. I wouldn’t quite say that… nor would I say that I liked the film. I certainly wouldn’t say that I enjoyed it. But it’s a work of art. Superbly crafted, well-acted and the craziest film I’ve ever seen… Kim Ki Duk has outdone himself again. I could have written this review without notes… even a month later because I don’t think I’ll ever forget what I saw. How can I ever scrub the image of the mother eating her son’s penis from my brain? Because if you know, please tell me, I’d love to remove it.

And as visually disturbing as Moebius is, the subject matter of crazy sexuality is worse. It’s like he bundled up all that is wrong with sex – cheating, jealousy, underage sex, incest, rape – and stuck them together in one story… oh wait, that’s just what he did. As a commentary on society, it’s not a pretty picture.

Did I like it? No, I really didn’t but I also couldn’t stop watching it. Would I recommend it? Yes but not on a date or with your parents. It’s a very well-made and complex film but one that is not for everyone. It’s disturbing and about sexual situations that will make many people uncomfortable. Moebius is powerful art that isn’t for everyone. What did you think of Moebius?

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

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