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Cobweb – Cannes 2023 (Film Review)

3 min read

Still Courtesy - Barunson E&A

As one of the most promising and illustrious auteurs to emerge from the New Korean Wave, still remains undefeated with the distribution and legacy of his provocative work.  His filmography is unpredictable; constantly switching genres and articulate commentaries with scattershot ease. Since the release of The Quiet Family (1998), Jee-woon has always been interested in tackling the politics, perspectives, and social wealth of his own country. With each new radical endeavour comes a discernible risk. Some of Jee-woon's films have been violently panned in the past, whereas others have successfully emerged from the wreckage of prior flops. There's always a risk with Jee-woon's kinetic oeuvre; constantly mixing different modes of filmmaking into respective pieces of cult cinema. There's no wonder why actors such as and tend to return back to a Jee-woon set — just in time for their closeup. With his latest feature entitled Cobweb, Jee-woon takes a far more subtextual approach by turning the camera onto his own profession. 

Set in a time where the South Korean government would continuously penalise artists with rigorous censorship-codes, Kim Jee-woon's filmmaking comedy of errors takes centre-stage in its bold satirical punches . Name-dropping classic works such as Aimless Bullet (1960) to re-contextualise the mass-hysteria revolving around fascist media control in the 1970s — Cobweb finds ample rhythm in its historical detail. The film is most effective as a manic depiction of an artist losing his creative control. The viewer witnesses a subconscious war throughout the film; the journey of one man's pursuit for absolution. It's the artist versus the state in Jee-woon's latest comedy; as the crazed cast & crew continuously attempt to up the ante. 

Still Courtesy – Barunson E&A

Adjacent to his situational-dependent scenes of cinéaste mania, Jee-woon implements gleeful maximalism to further rectify the commanding censorship theme. The madness of the movies only perpetuate more on-set cruelty within the Enfant Terrible cesspool. Jee-woon utilises over-the-top performances to sell the egotism and conflicting arguments within the confined sound-stage location. Throughout the heated arguments, the on-screen artists continuously fight for a better tomorrow. A Song Kang-ho freak-out scene is always entertaining, as Jee-woon embraces the absurdity of censorship to further amplify his period-dependent grievances. In Cobweb, artists are literally forced to risk the lives of others to establish their dwindling artistic voice. The film demonstrates the ramifications and subsequent sociopathy which derives from rampant censorship codes. Directors evolve into manic brutes when their voices are suppressed, as other generations of artists are shown to succumb to the same state authority. The art of retaliation merely repeats itself — lives lost and ruined for the urgency and lustful desire to distribute meaningful & timeless art. 

Cobweb is both a compassionate love-letter to the filmmaking process and a critique of the studio system as a whole. Translatable to our present context where artists are still forced to comply with the rules of a capitalist-centric network, Jee-woon's narrative is a shockingly relevant testimony to the dangers of suppressing free-speech. On a thematic scale, Cobweb prevails in its extreme depictions of creative control. However, Jee-woon relies far too heavily on scenes revolving around the fictional feature found within the central climax of his lengthy meta-commentary. The fictional film only undercuts the biting dissociation between artist and state. The journey is the destination, where the film's elongated epilogue feels needlessly stretched out for the sake of narrative closure. With a tighter structure and directorial command, the situational comedy at the crux of Jee-woon's film would have better serviced the thought-provoking meta-text. 

There's a fantastic buried within Cobweb's frequently clever narrative. What the audience ends up leaving with at the end of the day is a promising framework. A tighter focus and an extreme genre approach (through gruesome horror) at tackling the psychological aftermath of the film's depicted on-set trauma would have better amplified the provoking themes. Cobweb is a prime example of Kim Jee-woon directing at cruise-control — a promising effort from one of 's most daring boundary-pushers. 

Still Courtesy – Barunson E&A
Cobweb premiered out-of-competition at this year's 76th Cannes Film Festival.