Kim Jee-woon’s Cobweb revisits South Korea during the 1970s, when former President Park Chung-hee took control of the country’s film industry by censoring movies that depict anti-government narratives. This was a pivotal period where the local art scene was at the lowest low, with artists and filmmakers mandated to secure clearance from authorities to show their works to the public.
Cobweb never hesitates to show the complexities of the history it's telling. It follows filmmaker Kim Yeol’s journey to finishing his latest film, also titled Cobweb. Yeol already has an early cut of the movie finished, but he feels a new ending will enhance the entire thing and plans to reshoot a few sequences. With both the producers and censorship bodies rejecting his proposal, Yeol and his team went out on a secret shoot. Chaos ensues.
Yeol resists for the sake of his art, which is a gut-punching message as to how artists, not just in South Korea, are locked in institutional interferences for their creative works.
Director Kim Jee-woon identifies his lead character Kim Yeol as a filmmaker with a brooding spirit, something that a lot of his filmmaker heroes from the ‘60s and ‘70s have in common.
"By translating the spirit that our filmmakers had at that time that allowed them to break through those hardships in my film Cobweb, I felt like these days in Korea, we often say what is important is the undying spirit, and I wanted to show that through the character," Jee-woon said at the global press conference for the movie in September.
For people who enjoy watching movies about filmmaking, Cobweb is an easy recommendation as it's both a love letter and a satirical look at the high-wire act that takes to produce a movie.
Without spoiling, the film goes into unexpected places where characters are forced to do things outside their will—just to complete their project in time before the authorities step in. In a hilarious scene, a producer makes the risky move by bribing the studio boss with alcohol to make him doze off so the team can freely film their climax sequence.
Cobweb assembles a fine cast that's all great and, in their individual moments, warmly received by the audience at the screening. Song Kang-ho (Parasite) provides the eccentricities needed to play Kim Yeol and never feels short, especially in emotionally demanding scenes. Jeon Yeo-been (Vincenzo) is also a crowd favorite as Shin Mi-do, the film financier and crew member on the lookout for people getting in the way of their production.
Cobweb takes a while to settle in. A prolonged first act could’ve been cut shorter, but the succeeding acts were a blast to watch. It's presented in a movie-within-a-movie approach, where scenes of characters making their film are juxtaposed with the one they just shot. The fictional Cobweb offering in the film felt too real for how on-the-nose it was in terms of production value. There were even moments when the movie they were making looked better than the one we were watching.
The cinematography in Cobweb also makes the film look larger than it already is. The dynamic camerawork weaves through its packed ensemble and across its fictional film set. During a conversation post-screening, a friend noted how watching the film felt like watching a documentary about filmmakers (like how One Cut of the Dead pulled it off), where every part of its film crew, from the producers down to background extras, is fairly represented.
Cobweb is a lot of fun, but its introspection on filmmaking and the chaotic process to get there make up for a thought-provoking watch. Once in a while, we get movies that are “love letters to cinema,” but Cobweb is refreshing for how brutally honest and manic it can be—even if it takes making its humble characters do the extremes.
Cobweb opens in Philippine cinemas on Oct. 4 from TBA Studios. Watch the trailer below.