Cobweb: Review

Cobweb: Review

Cobweb: Review. By Joe Muldoon.

Seamlessly genre-weaving and fantastically self-aware, Cobweb is director Kim Ji-woon’s latest offering, and arguably his most unique. Known primarily for his gritty thrillers, Cobweb has Kim return to his darkly comedic roots, a move that is more than welcome. Set entirely on a single sound stage in the early 1970s, our central narrative has frequent collaborator Song Kang-ho as Kim, an eccentric film director living in the shadow of his late mentor, Director Shin.

Filming for Kim’s latest feature, Cobweb, has just freshly wrapped, but the director becomes obsessed with the film’s ending, finding himself convinced that it needs a rewrite – a change he thinks will make Cobweb a masterpiece, his magnum opus. With shooting having already wrapped to everyone’s satisfaction –cast, crew, and producers alike– he is met with immediate resistance to his pleas for two more shooting days.



Chairman Baek (Jang Young-nam), producer for the movie, is opposed to any reshoots, urging Kim to drop his new vision and to submit the footage to the censors. With the sound stage set to be repurposed for another imminent shoot and Cobweb’s feisty leading lady Han Yu-rim (Krystal Jung) already booked for a gig on the immediate horizon, the prospects look dire. But with the zeal of Director Shin’s daughter, Mido (Jeon Yeo-been), who is in charge of financing the film, the dysfunctional wheels begin to turn.

The new ending to Cobweb confuses everyone; the cast, the crew, and even the audience observing the on-set audience – and therein lies part of Cobweb’s greatness. We never get the full picture (excuse the pun) of what the titular film is actually about, only its ending. Is it a thriller, a horror, or even a murder mystery? Perhaps all at one, or maybe none at all – whatever it is, it looks brilliant. With the film’s meta film-within-a-film structure, we as the audience perform an immersive double-role, both as detached observers and as comrades of the crew.

With the bemused cast members as confused by the project as we are, we find a strange sense of solidarity with them, all of us together at the mercy of the increasingly frenzied Kim’s whims. Far from the comparatively grounded director Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) of Fellini’s iconic 8 1⁄2, Song’s Kim is the living embodiment of the archetypal neurotic artist, an agent of mayhem on an progressively chaotic set. Certainly not a stranger to eccentric roles, Song is the perfect man for the job, another wonderfully outlandish performance to his repertoire.

As the shoot quickly (and inevitably) spirals out of control, our fun only increases. With half-hearted mutiny attempts from from Han, desperate measures to prevent outside interference, and the untimely arrival of Chief Choi –a stern chap whose interest is piqued after Baek convinces him that the film’s new ending is designed to promote a violently anti-communist message– hilarity ensues.

Despite the film’s admitted bloatedness and slower-than-ideal pacing around its midsection, the calamitous goings-on throughout the reshoots are enough to keep things moving. With a mise en abyme style, there always comes the risk that its metaness will become too self-congratulatory, self-indulgent, too complex, but Kim avoids this and it feels rather natural.

The director is very open with his parody targets, whether it be the studio system, political interference, or temperamental performers; Cobweb is as much a satire of the film industry as it is a love letter to the filmmaking process itself. Taking a lighter approach to meta-commentary, Kim steers clear of dampening the comedy with out-of-place deadpan seriousness, instead opting to elicit chuckles from the peculiar characters representing the worst of the industry.

With interestingly experimental writing and a cast of beloved veterans and rising stars, Cobweb is a wickedly funny riff on filmmaking, studio interference, and eccentricity. Though the overall project suffers slightly with its frequent inclusion of scenes from the fictional Cobweb, the interspersion of current-day scenes in colour and internal fiction scenes in black and white makes for a clever approach to meta-blending.

Underneath the laughs and lunacy, there is a very important discourse about censorship and authoritarianism; for cinema to live, it must be free. Free from external interference, free from expressive restraint, and most importantly, free to be as open and original as it wishes. With Cobweb, Kim Ji-woon is leading by example.

By Joe Muldoon.


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