This is a family with problems, and if they were keeping them under wraps before, from now on they will be right out in the open as this morning when the father (Jo Jae-hyeon) receives a phone call from his mistress to arrange a date and his wife (Lee Eun-woo) attempts to wrestle the phone from him in an undignified grapple of limbs on the living room floor. He manages to win out, but that evening both his wife and his teenage son (Seo Young-ju) follow him to spy on the date; the son surreptitiously watches his father have sex with the mistress in his car, while the wife traces her back to her home and smashes a window. That night she is so enraged she takes a knife from underneath the Buddha statue in their hallway and sets about exacting a bloody revenge...
Only the person who bears the brunt of this, at least initially, is not her husband but her son as she is fought off by the older man when she tries to cut off his penis so opts to cut her son's penis off as he sleeps instead. You may be able to tell from that plot development that this was not going to be your run of the mill family drama, but for director Kim Ki-duk he was simply expressing what he regarded as a truth about life, except he chose to deliver it in the most aggressively over the top manner possible. That said, no matter how extreme the events unfolding on the screen became, there remained a curious calm to watching the three main characters undergo the most dreadful suffering.
Was it meant to be cathartic to watch people endure terrible hardship? After all, there was no shortage of misery porn on the supermarket bookshelves where the reader could wallow in true tales of horrendous experiences, so perhaps Moebius was intended to make the audience feel better in comparison, not so much "There but for the grace of God go I" and more "Thank goodness that isn't me". This wasn't based on a true story, you may not be surprised to learn, but the intent on dragging the characters through trying times so finally there was a spiritual peace attained by the last shot, did contain the same kind of orchestrations as some parable or other, or alternatively a news story which brought up revelation after revelation until we knew the whole truth.
Once the son - no characters have any names as far as we are told - meets his mother-induced mishap his parents react differently: mother eats the penis then wanders off in a trance of sorts, and father, after rushing him to hospital, sets about compensating for the missing member by typing things like "orgasm without penis" into a search engine and quickly finds a site detailing how a form of auto-erotic sadomasochism is an option. All you have to to is rub an area of your body with a stone to the point of bloodshed and you should achieve some sexual satisfaction, although on this evidence all you actually get is a sore arm or foot. Meanwhile the son gets into trouble with the police for a rape allegation, where a gang forced him into a gang rape of a local shopkeeper.
She was also played by Lee Eun-woo, and she becomes a weird girlfriend for the son when they discover that plunging a knife into his shoulder as he feels her up is better than sex the normal way. Now, this was apparently intended as a comedy as well as perceptive drama, but if you didn't find it funny it could be because it was akin to being told a very long dirty joke in a foreign language you can only pick out the occasional point from. Underlining that alien quality was the lack of dialogue, in Korean or otherwise, as nobody here speaks a word, though the impression is you still would be unlikely to relate even if they did. The cast were certainly committed to delivering this with a straightfaced sincerity which served to render it all the more bizarre as there was no wink at the audience to tell us how to react. According to Kim, he was investigating the aspects of sex and family that he saw but apparently nobody else could as the drama progresses (or descends) into more violence and even incest, so with this lack of empathy you watched this more or less bemused.