Cobweb (Geomijip) is a Brilliant Meta-Fiction About the Film Industry and a Marvellously Inventive Farce

“Isn’t this too overblown?” asks actress Madame Oh (Park Jeong-su) on the set of the film-within-a-film Cobweb. She’s asking about Director Kim’s (Song Kang-ho) gothic revenge cum thriller cum horror movie (also titled Cobweb), but the question is pertinent for Jee-woon Kim’s entire production. Yes, the film is too overblown but that is precisely Kim’s point. The obsession that goes into making a feature film and the absurdity of the creative process in itself.

Arguably, Jee-woon Kim is most famous for two features: his exquisite K-Horror A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) and his revenge film I Saw the Devil (2010), but he also has a history with dark comedy. Cobweb sees him refining his comedic sensibilities and throwing in a dash of horror and mystery to keep his long-time admirers on board.

The film is set in the early 1970s – a period when South Korean productions were under a strict code. Government regulations meant a film could be blacklisted (and so too its director) if it didn’t follow a certain political or moral code set by censors defined by the “Yusin System.” Kim Ki-yeol is struggling both under the system and with the fact that he’s a critical flop. The film industry is distinctly against him and he’s barely holding on with only with studio boss President Baek’s (Jang Young-nam) increasingly tenuous support and the overly passionate worship of Mido (Jeon Yeo-been) who is the rightful heir of the studio.

Kim Ki-yeol believes he could make his masterpiece – a slap in the face to those who have doubted him, if only he had two more days to reshoot his rewrites. Luckily for him President Baek is going out of town to court Japanese investors and Mido gives the go ahead for what turns out to be an utter farce of a production. The lead actor Ho-se (Oh Jung-se) who is known for many on-set affairs is trying to keep the pregnancy of leading lady Yu-rim (Krystal Jung) under wraps but failing miserably. A harried AD tries to keep everything on an even keel as the stars including a method actor playing a detective interfere in each other’s lives. Madame Oh states that all of Director Kim’s sets are like soap operas which reflects the bizarre soap opera style of the film inside the film.

It doesn’t help that Kim Ki-yeol is clearly in the grips of monomania and is suffering from paranoid delusions exacerbated by guilt. It certainly doesn’t help that he is being enabled by Mido’s off-the-wall enthusiasm that crosses the line into outright crime. Another thing that doesn’t help is that his actors really have no idea what is going on in the ever-changing script and Yu-rim is refusing to do scenes until she gets exactly what she wants. Watching in bemused fascination is the real female protagonist of the film within the film Lee Min-ja (Lim Soo-jung) the cameraman Hong who is required to shoot a “plan-de-séquence” on a burning set, and a crew that tries to roll with the chaos of an illegal two-day shoot.

There’s also the mystery of what really happened to Director Shin, director Kim’s mentor from back in the day where he was a humble AD. Kim has been fighting accusations for years that he didn’t write the script for his first film and only success Love Like A Flame (a specifically ironic title for screenwriter Shin Yeon-shick to employ) considering Director Shin died in a fire on the set of his last film.

Cobweb is hilarious but it doesn’t forget that there are also serious issues inside it. The film censors are all hypocrites who are easily bought with alcohol or access to star talent. The so-called government moral code is irrelevant when it comes to the personal lives of people involved in the production. The hilarity all grinds to a halt when Director Kim realises from here where his obsession sprung and what ends he will go to ensuring he reclaims a borrowed reputation.

Cobweb is a brilliant meta-fiction about the film industry and a marvellously inventive farce. It combines all the different tonal skills of Jee-woon Kim to create a work that both loves cinema but also knows how ludicrous the whole thing can be. For cineastes there are multiple opportunities to pick out references and indulge in their own adoration for the form. Directors implore an audience to “Believe in me,” and although believing in Director Kim is an act of foolhardiness, believing in Jee-woon Kim is not.

Director: Jee-woon Kim

Cast: Park Jeong-su, Krystal Jung, Oh Jung-se

Writers: Yeon-Shick Shin (screenplay), Jee-woon Kim (adaptation)

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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