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The Weekend Watch: "Cobweb"

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) Weekend 2023 marked the release of Cobweb (Geomjip, 거미집), the latest film of director Kim Jee-won (The Good, the Bad, the Weird), and his love letter to Korean cinema. Headlined by veteran actor Song Kang-ho (Parasite), this black comedy set against the backdrop of the Korean film scene in the 1970s, screened out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.


*Cobweb is exclusively distributed in the Philippines by TBA Studios, which also brought us Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, and Past Lives. Catch it in Philippine cinemas beginning October 4.

GwenchaNoona | The Weekend Watch: "Cobweb" (photo of Song Kang-ho and the rest of the cast; A K-movie Review)

Photo courtesy of TBA Studios


The Plot


Director Kim Yeol (Song Kang-ho) has just finished shooting his latest movie. Haunted by a recurring dream that presents a different ending, he is convinced that a two-day reshoot to “tweak” the plan séquence ending will turn his film into a masterpiece.


Defying the instructions of his producer Chairman Baek (Jang Young-nam, It’s Okay to Not be Okay) and warnings of censors, he mobilizes his cast—womanizer Kang Ho-se (Oh Jung-se, Revenant), veteran actresses Lee Min-mi (Lim Soo-jung, Search: WWW) and Mrs. Oh (Park Jung-soo, Jealousy Incarnate), and popular new actress Han Yu-rim (Krystal Jung, Police University)—and crew, enabled by the excitable studio heiress Shin Mi-do (Jeon Yeo-been, Vincenzo) who has successfully brought in Japanese investors.


However, Murphy’s Law kicks in on the clandestine set, and all hell breaks loose. Will Director Kim realize his vision, or will the drama between his actors and the demands of censors pushing an anti-communist agenda, as well as all the conflicting schedules and interests, get in his way?



The Review


In a September interview with The Korea Times, Director Kim Jee-won quipped, “This film was like giving me a message when my love for films had cooled down.”


Just like rekindling an old flame, Cobweb revisited the history of cinema, taking viewers on a tour of the social and political dynamics of the era while showing a whole gamut of genres in a style reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s black-and-white suspense-thriller noir.


Imagine an Inception-infused metafictional opening scene: a black-and-white murder scene with the view shifting to reveal a movie camera recording it and the director waking up from what turns out to be a dream of an alternative film ending. It pretty much sums up the whole viewing experience: confusion, disruption, and revelation (whether it leads to understanding is another matter). This is a movie that does not take itself seriously; instead, it mirrors the drama on the set, which is as chaotic and absurd as it gets. As K-drama fans, our eyes lit up whenever the word makjang was dropped—either to describe Director Kim’s chaotic filming environment or the over-the-top movie itself.


This satirical film also reflects the fragile state of filmmaking in the 1970s, laden with heavy censorship and domestic fund shortages. While this forced the industry to be more creative and resourceful, it also drove directors to weave a web of deceit for censors, actors, and producers.



As a highly-respected director who has screened multiple films at Cannes, Kim Jee-won has been able to attract top-tier talent in front of and behind the camera. Cobweb’s solid cast is led by the singular Song Kang-ho, who turns in a sympathetic portrayal of an obsessed director desperate to prove that his best is yet to come. It was a pleasant surprise to see Oh Jung-se, best known to K-drama fans for his varied character roles, such as in When the Camellia Blooms, and It’s Okay to Not be Okay, as a philandering actor. We particularly enjoyed Jeon Yeo-been’s often hilarious, scene-stealing performance as an over-eager young producer willing to do whatever it takes (legal and illegal) to give Director Kim the masterpiece she believes he deserves.


Behind the scenes, cinematographer Kim Ji-yong, who recently worked on Park Chan-wook’s critically acclaimed Decision to Leave, and the production design team effectively set the mood and captured the feel of the era.


Clocking in at 135 minutes, Cobweb is an entertaining albeit lengthy romp, but is a must-see for film enthusiasts wanting a glimpse of Korean filmmaking in the ‘70s. While primarily a comedy, the film offers its audience a deeper appreciation of the struggles of the country’s artists and film industry workers of the era and maybe even lets viewers fall in love with South Korean cinema all over again.


 

Disclosure: GwenchaNoona was invited to the special advanced screening of Cobweb hosted by TBA Studios, but this did not influence our review in any way.


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