Review by Sean Boelman
Cobweb is the latest film from prolific Korean director Kim Jee-woon (The Good the Bad the Weird, I Saw the Devil), and on paper, it sounds like a home run: a meta comedy with a fantastic lead. However, the movie’s ambitious guise is only a facade, as it feels far too reminiscent of other films about filmmaking to make much of an impact.
Cobweb follows a film director who assembles his cast and crew for a hectic few days of reshoots, trying to capture the perfect ending, much to the dismay of the censors, his producers, and the cast. The premise promises an intriguing work of metafiction, as the on-set drama and the drama in the film-within-a-film become inextricably intertwined, but viewers will soon realize this is heading nowhere.
The biggest issue with Cobweb is that, despite its intriguing premise, the movie all too often feels hollow. There are a few interesting tidbits about censorship and artistic freedom, but Kim says his bit on the matter early and spends the rest of the bloated 2+ hour runtime needlessly hammering this point in.
Unfortunately, the film also lacks the comedic zing of Kim’s finer work. The humor tends to track either too broad or too specific — resulting in a mildly amusing watch, but never truly funny. The chaos of the melodrama can be entertaining enough to carry the movie at times, but too much of it falls back onto familiar beats for it to be fully engaging.
There is also the matter of the characters, which are all frustratingly archetypal. If you’ve seen any “behind-the-scenes satires” of film sets, you know the deal. The director is a visionary but a bit of an egomaniac. The actors have diva-ish qualities played for laughs but are empathetic because of some of the over-the-top ways they’re being treated on set. The only people who really shake up the formula here are the bureaucrats, but they, too, feel like shallow caricatures.
Kim doesn’t even manage to get particularly impressive performances out of his cast. Song Kang-ho (Parasite, Broker) plays the lead role, but his talents feel wholly put to waste. Although he has a few funny moments and a few more that are endearing, the role calls for Song to be flashy, lacking the quieter, subtler characteristics that made his last few turns so impressive.
The one area in which Cobweb unequivocally excels is its visuals. The cinematography does a great job of creating a dichotomy between the chaos of the film set and the (black-and-white) beauty of the Hitchcockian film-within-a-film. The production design also does a great job of mimicking both a film set and the type of movie being shot on said set.
Although there are a lot of things to like about Cobweb, Kim Jee-woon’s latest film does not congeal into a particularly satisfying whole — a massive disappointment considering the caliber of his past work. Much like an actual cobweb, Cobweb is the type of movie that will leave you itching your head for much longer than you probably need to, and similarly, you won’t really know why.
Cobweb hits theaters on February 9.