‘Cobweb’ Review: Song Kang-ho Stars in Inconsistent Satire
The concept of a movie within a movie is hardly new. From Tropic Thunder to the Scream franchise, and even miniseries like Irma Vep, we’re operating on well-trodden ground. Films of this sort are more about the act of filmmaking, the interpersonal relationships between the cast and crew, than the fictional film. Cobweb is director Kim Jee-woon‘s addition to this specific sub-genre. Set in the 1970s in South Korea, the film centers around Director Kim, played by Song Kang-ho of Parasite fame, and his attempt to create his masterpiece film: “Cobweb.” Or, more specifically, it’s about Kim’s reshooting of the ending of “Cobweb” within two days in order to complete his vision.
There Is a Lot Going on in ‘Cobweb’
Stylized in black and white, the fictional “Cobweb” film is a soapy tale about romance, infidelity, greed, and violence. But what’s happening behind the camera is far more entertaining, if a bit convoluted. Between Kim’s conflict with Chairwoman Baek (Jang Young-nam), the wife of Kim’s former mentor, to the mentor’s daughter Shin Mi-do’s (Jeon Yeo-been) zealous dedication to completing the film, to the secret romance that’s in tatters between actors Kang Ho-se (Oh Jung-se) and Han Yu-rim (Krystal Jung), there is a lot to keep track of.
Giving side characters full storylines and implementing humor and satire is not a surprise when it comes to Korean cinema, but if you’re looking for the next Parasite, keep moving. At the center of Cobweb is a mystery — what happened to Director Kim’s mentor? The film approaches this mystery in a meandering sort of way, dropping hints here and there about how Kim actually wrote the scripts to his mentor’s masterpieces, but does not get the credit for it. By the end of the film, when the truth of what has happened is revealed, it’s less impactful due to the fact that multiple other storylines have been presented in the process.
‘Cobweb’ Is Best When It’s Funny
Therefore, the best aspect of Cobweb is not its central plot, but rather the way it uses humor and satire. Song is a fitting cast for Kim, able to both embody the obsessiveness of the director while also blending in comedy and wry delivery. Besides Song, Krystal Jung’s Han Yu-rim is also a stand-out performance.
A new actress who was basically discovered by Kim, Yu-rim has become wildly popular and is very reluctant to film another two days of “Cobweb” due to her busy schedule. Jung portrays Yu-rim with all the bratty arrogance of a rising star who thinks she’s moved beyond the soapy films of Director Kim. Her scenes with the lovesick philandering actor Kang Ho-Se make fun of the secret affairs and relationships that can occur on set between actors.
Alongside Song and Jung is Jeon Yeo-been playing Shin Mi-do. Her dedication to Director Kim’s vision leads to one of the funniest scenes in the film where Mi-do tries to stand in for an actor who is being difficult but falls woefully short of making the scene work with her mediocre skills. These are the moments when Cobweb is most entertaining and silly.
‘Cobweb’ Takes Itself a Little Too Seriously
Perhaps if Cobweb leaned in more to the comedic aspects of the film, or even into the satirical look at filmmaking, this would have been a stronger film. But as it barrels toward the end, even with an entertaining one-shot sequence, its attempt to try and resolve all its plot points ends up making the film feel bloated.
Coming in at 135 minutes, there are certainly segments of Cobweb that drag or try to do too much, and it feels like the editing process is not finished sometimes. It’s far from perfect, but the production design of the film and the strong backbone of actors make Cobweb an entertaining film, though not a must-see.
Cobweb had its world premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.