Kim Ji-woon is a talented genre sorcerer who combined J-horror with Gothic melodrama in 2003's 'A Tale Of Two Sisters', took the spaghetti Western to Manchuria with 2008's 'The Good, The Bad, The Weird', essayed a grim, violent gangster movie with 'A Bittersweet Life', pushed the Korean revenge drama to ever-nastier extremes with 'I Saw The Devil', subverted expectations with 'The Age Of Shadows', a pulpy thriller set in the 1920s, and adapted Mamoru Oshii's animated film 'Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade' into a live-action South Korean sci-fi movie. He's even done a wrestling comedy ('The Foul King') and an Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick, 'The Last Stand', which was a lot of fun and the only one of Arnie's modern comeback movies that gels with his classics. Kim is known to draw inspiration from other celebrated filmmakers whom he admires, so perhaps it was inevitable that his latest film, 'Cobweb', is a comedy about the trials and triumphs of making a movie, and what filmmaking means to the people involved.
Set in South Korea during the militaristic, censorship-happy 1970s, 'Cobweb' focuses on a director who is also named Kim (Song Kang-ho in his fifth collaboration with Kim Jee-woon - their first project together was the landmark 1997 black comedy horror 'The Quiet Family'). This Kim's career is at a crossroads. He learned his craft under a famed director named Shin Seong-ho and debuted with a critically-acclaimed hit movie, but followed it up with a series of tawdry melodramas, earning him the scorn of the critics hanging out at his local noodle bar. After experiencing vivid dreams, Kim becomes obsessed by a desire to reshoot the ending of his recently completed film 'Cobweb'. It takes a certain amount of faith - and a dash of delusion - for directors to believe that the visions floating through their heads will appeal to anyone else. Luckily, Kim finds an admirer and an ally in Shin Mi-do (the very funny Jeon Yeo-been, Netflix's 'Night in Paradise', TV's 'Vincenzo'), the heiress of the production company. The two scheme together to shoot an extra two days of film without alerting the budget-conscious Chairwoman Baek (Jang Young-nam), the mother of Shin and wife of Kim's former mentor.
Of course, whacky comedic hijinks ensue with Shin running interference against the censorship authorities, an affair between actors Kang Ho-se (Oh Jung-se) and Han Yu-rim (Krystal Jung, another standout performer) and the complaints of everyone (aside from Shin) who can't understand Kim's rewritten ending. 'Cobweb' follows the usual pattern of Hollywood satires, with an increasingly frazzled director navigating all the usual perils of production, and things going wrong right and left. It is also something of a callback to two films that Kim Ji-woon made before - the frantic behind-the-scenes shenanigans invoke 'The Quiet Family', while the fictional film-within-a-film's florid murder/drama (and actor Im Soo-jung) harks back to 'A Tale of Two Sisters'. It adds to the feeling that Kim Ji-woon is talking from a place of personal experience and his latest project might contain a few autobiographical elements.
It's hard not to crack a smile at the silly comedy of 'Cobweb' and the wholesome way it approaches its cast of characters.
It's hard not to crack a smile at the silly comedy of 'Cobweb' and the wholesome way it approaches its cast of characters. The punchline/climax of the film-within-a-film, which is preceded by a Hitchcockian, elaborately choreographed "plan-de-séquence" is great, too. Working from a screenplay by Shin Yeon-shick, there are metaphors about imposter syndrome, artists having dumb ideas enabled by equally misguided producers, and the importance of following your dreams. Does being an artist require talent or merely the ability to see your project through to the bitter end? Is it possible to bring a self-described "masterpiece" into existence through sheer willpower? On the downside, the dramatic elements aren't compelling enough for a 135-minute long feature, and some subplots - like the mystery of Shin Seong-ho's fate - could have been touched upon and resolved more quickly.
'Cobweb' may not be as harrowing, explosive, challenging or feature Arnold Schwarzenegger, like some of Kim Ji-woon's previous movies, but it is a very amusing and watchable mediation on the craft of filmmaking.