Though it may be a little haphazardly put together, there’s still a heft of intrigue and amusing genre blending in Kim Jee-woon‘s Cobweb, a blurring of reality and fantasy that places the magic of celluloid at the centre.
Set in the 1970s, the film builds itself around Kim (Song Kang-ho), a director who has failed to match the genius he exercised with his debut feature, with both critics and audiences seemingly turning their back on his creativity. He already has another film in the can, but he’s struck with a sense of inspiration to overhaul its finale, leaving the cast and crew scrambling to both grasp his concept and re-set in time; the producers and motion picture censors also finding it difficult to contend with Kim’s apparent vision.
At over two hours long, and with the film-within-a-film segments earning just as much screen time as the real-life storyline of the cast and crew battling their demons and melodramatic issues, Cobweb, at times, isn’t sure which mentality it would rather embrace. There’s a smart film in there regarding both presented stories – the exaggerated thrills of the black-and-white picture being made, and the chaotic, satirical look at filmmaking politics presented in colour – but they quite often step on each other’s toes, only occasionally rearing out from the other’s shadow; the behind-the-scenes drama arguably the more interesting narrative.
Because the act of filmmaking itself is quite a tumultuous process, when Cobweb leans into the lunacy of its premise, it’s a far more entertaining feature, further assisted by the supreme performance of Song Kang-ho and the expansive ensemble, with Oh Jung-se as the gradually unravelling playboy lead, Krystal Jung as a diva-esque actress, and Park Jung-soo as Kim’s usual starlet, who now demands extra payment for her appearance, all perfecting the film’s tonal balance.
The chase for artistic greatness is never going to be easily manoeuvred, and that’s perhaps where Cobweb earns its justification for its frenzied personality and patchy temper. It’s more successful than it isn’t, it’s quite delicious in its ambitiousness, and even though you may find your visit to set a little longer than anticipated, it never goes without providing something of worth.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Cobweb is screening in Australian theatres from October 5th, 2023.