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Original Title:

South Korea 2023

Comedy, Drama

Kim Ji-woon

Song Kang-ho
Jeon Yeo-been
Jung Soo-jung
Oh Jung-se
Lim Soo-jung
Jang Young-nam
Kim Min-jae

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Cobweb - Film Screenshot 1

Story: It's the 70s and director Kim Ki-yeol (Song Kang-ho) hasn't made a decent movie since his debut, so critics have been making fun of him for quite some time. He has just finished shooting a movie when he suddenly gets an inspiration. If he simply reshoots the ending, it will become the masterpiece he so desperately needs. He therefore rounds up the actors and film crew again and wants to start filming when it turns out that the new ending will not be approved by the censorship board. But Mi-do (Jeon Yeo-been), the daughter of the producer, who will one day take over the production company of her father, is so enthusiastic about the new ending that she lets director Kim shoot the new scenes anyway. However, another problem is that the crew only has two days as another production needs the set by then. Moreover, actress Yoo-rim (Jung so-jung) has a big problem with being back on set, as she is having an affair with her colleague Ho-se (Oh Jung-se) and is even expecting his child. Nevertheless, they start filming until eventually someone from the censorship board comes by and wants to know why the movie is being shot in secret. Mi-do is able to defuse the situation by getting the man drunk. While director Kim repeatedly struggles with the actors' hysterical fits, he is overcome by self-doubt about whether his movie will really be a masterpiece ...

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Review: When a director makes a movie about a director, it is either Hong Sang-so, like in "Oki's Movie" (to name just one of many), or he himself is in a crisis and wants to tackle his artistic low through the medium itself - similar to the countless writers with writer's block who end up writing something about a writer with writer's block. The end result will inevitably transport the readers, or the viewers in case of "Cobweb", to a meta-level and make them work hard to see behind the curtain and possibly even get a glimpse of the director's personality. If this director is Kim Ji-woon ("I Saw the Devil"), things promise to become interesting as you probably wouldn't have expected anything like that from him. In fact, "Cobweb" turns out to be Kim's most innovative, but also most unstructured movie, which gets quite frustrating sometimes, but also manages to entertain us here and there thanks to its black humor and a touch of slapstick.

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Of course, it's not the first time that Kim Ji-woon is eager to try new things and add a good portion of humor to his movie, as we are a bit reminded of the kimchi western "The Good, the Bad, the Weird". Just as in that movie, Song Kang-Ho plays the lead role here too, and even Jung Woo-sung can be seen in a cameo as Kim Yi-yeol's mentor giving a shockingly extroverted and absurd performance that absolutely hits the mark as it skillfully underlines the tone of this comedy. In the meantime, Song Kang-ho manages to hold the movie together as a director who is addicted to pills and probably rewrote his ending in a drug frenzy, but other than that, he probably plays one of his most memorable roles, also because you sometimes don't really recognize him. Some of his inner monologues also offer us a way not to get completely lost in the movie's chaos. Because despite the problems with the censorship authorities and the actors, the basic plot is still the reshoot, and so "Cobweb" seems to offer an open space for all kinds of nonsense on set.

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This nonsense aspect can be understood in a positive way too, because the problems the actors have create a cheap drama, which actually mirrors the movie that is shot - only that latter wants to be a bit more sophisticated and being set in the 70s also represents a completely different time. The twists in the movie within the movie are enormously clichéd and ridiculous, but somehow believable again due to the timeframe and the cinematic preparation, which at least partly matches the time. Here "Cobweb" works with its meta-level and once again makes us laugh about the hysterical actors on set and their behavior, as somehow everything seems way too absurd. Kim Ji-woon even increases the pacing enormously by creating quite some chaos, which makes you feel like you are actually on set - also due to the documentary-like, sometimes shaky camera work -, until Kim takes it too far, and you ask yourself whether there is anything serious left at all here. Of course, it is quite easy to defend yourself against any criticism by never making clear whether you are making fun of yourself or not. But it can also be pretty exhausting.

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However, the movie could be even more exhausting if the actors didn't do such a great job all the way throughout. In addition, the images of the movie that Ki-yeol is shooting simply look fantastic. Kim Ji-woon tries to capture the aesthetics of Korean 70s cinema. I won't judge whether he succeeded in doing so or not, because I don't know enough about that era, but you simply have to be pleased by the score, the sound quality, and above all the great play with light and shadow that Kim Ji-woon puts on screen here. He instantly manages to create a dense atmosphere, although we only get to see small snippets of the movie. Making a movie completely in that style would definitely be something the director should consider. The ending also allows both "worlds" to collide again when something goes wrong on set, but the continuous one-shot has to keep going. Maybe this is where "Cobweb" should have ended, but it doesn't.

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With its multiple endings, you get the impression that Kim Ji-woon himself rewrote his movie several times and ultimately simply put all of the endings one after the other. Since the ending of Ki-yeol's movie is extremely absurd, you don't know what to make of all this. If the focus had been more on Ki-yeol and his filmmaking process in the face of the censorship board, the bottom line could have been a political statement. But Ki-yeol's addiction to pills, his self-adulation, and his bitterness caused by no one understanding him and his art cannot hold up as a message, because the movie has too little substance for that. The characters aren't well-written either. It is only thanks to the actors that some scenes, which could otherwise just be described as forgettable slapstick, actually work here. In his effort to bring out the great masterpiece, Ki-yeol gets lost in a cobweb in his own head (hence the title) unable to find his way out. Did Kim Ji-woon really have to follow suit (even if you don't get the impression that he wanted to create a masterpiece)? Maybe that's the message of the movie...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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