Kim Jee-woon is the mastermind behind this dark, dark comedy about the making of a film in 1970s South Korea. “Described as an experimental and genre-defying drama shot entirely on sound stages in support of a film-within-a-film narrative,” on IMDB, that only begins to explain the contours of this fabulous period piece.
Here, Director Kim (Song Kang-ho) the director of the film-within-a-film is trying to rise above his reputation as a maker of second-rate schlock and make his artistic masterpiece. The head of his production company, Madame Oh (Park Jeong-su) doesn’t really care about that, and neither does the board of censorship, which all of the films have to get past, even to get a permit for shooting.
Director Kim used to assist a legendary director who was killed in a fire on set. Kim has exactly one artistic triumph to his name, and people credit that film to the legendary director that he used to work for, despite his protests that it is his own artistic output.
The film is filled with evocative period tones and costumes, as well as the subterfuge necessary to sneak in a couple of days of filming without a production license. Cobweb is filled with the frenetic energy of a classic caper movie, or perhaps of the desperate energy of a bug trying to escape being trapped in a spider’s web!
This complex and multi-layered film also manages to include all of the interpersonal drama of a film set, including an actress on the rise and her married lover, along with substantial family drama. Add in a few bottles of very good whiskey and a sprinkle of bureaucrats intent on mucking up Director Kim’s artistic masterpiece, and you have this pitch perfect dark comedy that harkens back to the best screwball comedies of the 1930s like HIS GIRL FRIDAY as well as being a bit of an homage to CITIZEN KANE. A Korean film aficionado explained that the film also harkens back to the golden age of 1960s Korean cinema, references that were lost to someone without a deep knowledge of Korean cinema.
The film also features the making of a continuous take, one made without stopping the camera as well as what the results of filming that take.
Apart from what is on the screen, there was some real-life drama around the film as well, with the family of the late director Kim Ki Young saying that the film portrayed the late director in a negative light. The case has since been settled.
Don’t miss this captivating Korean period piece full of moving parts, muted color palettes and vivid character portrayals.
COBWEB screened at this year’s Fantastic Fest. Thanks as always to the wonderful Fons PR for assistance with this article.