South Korea’s highest grossing film is the monster film “The Host” directed by Bong Joon-Ho. Sure, “The Host” wasn’t a film for everyone, but it was quite inventive in the way it sidestepped the usual devices of monster films. Well, one wouldn’t be hard-pressed to expect another ‘monster’ hit from Bong (well, there is its coming sequel), but for his latest film, the director instead goes for a film that follows the footsteps of his 2003 hit “Memories of Murder”. “MOTHER” (2009) is a tightly-wound mystery that is excellently directed and smoothly paced. It sure helps that the film boasts of commanding performances from Kim Hye-Ja and Bin Won .
A murder stuns a small South Korean town and suspicion falls on a reclusive, mentally challenged and alibi-free Do-Joon (Bin Won). Despite an adult, Do-Joon is highly dependent on his mother (Kim Hye-Ja, her character is never formally given a name), is naïve and is often a reason for anxiety because Do-Joon often behaves childishly and is potentially dangerous at times. Now, Do-Joon is charged with the crime and his mother mobilizes to prove his innocence when his defense attorney proved quite inept. Together with Do-Joon’s hot-headed friend Jin-Tae, they seek to know the truth…but sometimes the truth can be just as hazy as a lie.
How far can a mother go to protect her child? Well, director Bong and co-writer Park Eun-Kyo brings this question to the forefront. The first act of the film gives hints to the relationship between Do-Joon and his mother, his friend and just how deep they are. It was wise for the direction to allow a lot of foreshadowing as it proves to be the film’s biggest selling point. Hints of incest and of an affair between the mother and Jin-Tae are hinted at but it was never given a solid answer; it was wise of the direction to instead focus on the psychological state of Do-Joon’s mother, the investigation and the mystery. The clues come to Do-Joon’s mother and the viewer is drawn to the investigation along with the main protagonist, each clue while not exactly shocking, manages to generate a needed sense of urgency and suspense. Bong and his co-writer keeps the drama real and maintains the tone and mood of a thriller while it fleshes out the emotions such as desperation, fear and confusion within the mother’s character. It makes the plot and the characters pretty easy to sympathize with; they appear very real and I loved the way the direction brought out the emotions.
Yes, the film has a strong script and as I’ve mentioned, aside from the foreshadowing, it takes its viewer on a ride in solving the mystery. The clues are very credible and the devices are nicely laid out; it was nice to see a good direction that mimics the “Hitchcock” style thriller that has a lot of impact on its narrative. Bong takes his time, keeps the pace moving and the thrills slowly developing. “Mother” is a drama-thriller with a direction that knows what it is doing as it amps the tension and the questions. The camera work is simple, but it never dawdles and yet it is fitting for a film like this. There is barely any musical score in the film which gives it a realistic feel.
Of course the direction and script can only deliver when it has strong leads and Kim Hye-Ja never disappoints. The close-ups are a huge part of the direction’s style and Kim manages to work the camera to huge returns. You see her express a lot of emotions, but they are subtle as if her character is also experiencing doubt and lack of confidence in what she is doing. Bin Won was nominated as best supporting actor in the Korean film awards and his role as the dim-witted Do-Joon is quite a difficult one to pull off. He looked innocent even when he knows he did wrong and he is an individual who tries to follow his mother’s teachings as much as he could. The film has one scene of sex and nudity but it wasn’t anything that can turn off viewers. There is also some very subtle doses of humor in the film. It wasn’t too obvious but they were there to keep things enthralling and entertaining.
“Mother” is a film with no clear-cut ending and the moral complexities given by the film’s conclusion may turn off folks who only like the usual spoon-fed details of good and evil. There are some scenes that require reading between the lines, (as with any other Asian film) and Bing uses some commentary on maternal issues. “Memories of Murder” has a social commentary, “Mother” carries strong commentaries on morality and motherly love. The film doesn’t have that commercial appeal as “The Host” but I have to say, despite its box-office returns, “Mother” is a far superior film than Bong’s “The Host” because of its careful hand in storytelling.
Highly Recommended! [4 ½ Out of 5 Stars] This Review is an AsianFlix 'n' AnimeFix Community Exclusive @Lunch.com
When her mentally challenged son is charged with a brutal murder, his mother sets out to prove him innocent. When the ordinary channels fail her, she increasingly takes things into her own hands, and is not afraid to get those hands dirty. While there are scores of films about fathers out to protect and avenge their children who have been victims of a crime, this is the first that I'm aware of in which it is the mother who is out to defend the accused. It is a rich and inventive … more
violence, some sexual content, language and drug use
Just as South Korean director Bong Joon-ho's previous film,The Host, subverted the traditions of the giant monster movie to examine the effects of a crisis on a unique family, his latest effort,Mother, embraces the tropes of the murder mystery for an unsettling and affecting story of parental love taken to its extreme. Popular South Korean television actress Kim Hye-ja gives a powerful performance as a downtrodden acupuncturist whose mentally challenged son (Korean A-lister Won Bin) is accused of murdering a local schoolgirl. Bullied into a confession by the local police (led by Yoon Je-moon ofThe Host), the young man faces incarceration at a mental hospital unless his mother can discover the killer's true identity. Her inquiry leads her into classic noir territory, with perceived truths blown apart at every turn; in typical Joon-ho fashion, these discoveries are marked by moments of shocking violence, dark slapstick humor, and moving familial drama, which come together in a genuinely unique perspective on the nature of truth and commitment. The official South Korean submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the 82nd Academy Awards,Motheris yet another entry on a growing list of exceptional motion pictures from one of the international scene's most intriguing filmmakers.--Paul Gaita
Hye-ja is a single mom to 27-year-old Do-joon. Her son is her raison ...