A few years back Bong Joon-Ho hit it big internationally with The Host, a film that satiated the cravings of the masses for a creature feature that was credible enough to be loved in the light of day. It’s only relevant here because his success there meant that the expectations for his follow up, Mother, were sky high so it is terribly exciting to discover that with his new found fame and confidence he delivered a creepy, Hitchcockian thriller that is easily one of the best films of the year. The performances are top notch, the story engrossing and absurd, and the cinematography – the real showstopper – is amazing. At times it appears as though he’s Hulking up for his fans but you must respect that way he take everyday occurrences (an interrogation, a recreation of a crime scene) and molds them into beautiful images that ooze black humor.
The titular Mother (Kim Hye-ja) is a widower who now devotes her life to her mentally challenged son Do-joon (Won Bin) who is fully grown but still needs the protection, care and unconditional love that she supplies. Her devotion is so deep that we wonder what is really going on for her; we see more than a little craziness flickering behind her eyes and wonder how that affects her decisions. One night, after hours of drinking, Do-joon heads home and begins following and harassing the town floozy. The next morning she turns up dead and the police, in lieu of actual police work, track down the village idiot and arrest him for murder. To their credit he was definitely in the vicinity of the crime scene and a golf ball with his name on it was found nearby. This rocks the mother to her core (think of the pain Will Smith went through in I Am Legend when he had to kill his dog) but it also gives her a new reason to exist, she must solve the case that the local force was too lazy to attempt.
In theatres now is Winter’s Bone, another strong movie about a female who must play detective in the name of saving their family. Mother doesn’t have as much interest in digging into the local color, instead it aims to challenge the way we think about this character. How far would you go to save a wronged family member? If you wouldn’t go this far does that make you apathetic or does it make her obsessive? She soon sets her sights on the town Lothario who we know is a lowlife because he’s bedding the prettiest girl in town and doesn’t even appreciate it. She hires an attorney but the best advice they can offer is to plea bargain down to a four year sentence (Don’t worry, he says, think about how fast time flew between the 2002 and 2006 World Cup). This goes on for a time but all the while those of us who are familiar with Bong Joon-Ho’s other works are just waiting for the other shoe to drop and for all signs of tameness to fall by the wayside.
As a storyteller his pacing is flawless and when he does come at us with the shock and awe we don’t feel cheated because everything that came before it makes it plausible enough. Something of a resolution is reached though we are left with a sense that most likely other problems lie ahead for this duo. They start sleeping in the same bed together and we assume that they both know something terrible about the other but are too afraid to mention it. They say that the truth shall set you free, but what if the truth just sits there on a shelf unacknowledged? Mother, while also a mystery and character study, is at its core a fantasy. Who wouldn’t want to have somebody, anybody, even your own mother, be this loyal to you? And who, given the opportunity, wouldn’t want to see this movie? Nobody in their right mind, that’s for sure, see this movie anyway you can.
DVD Special Features:
A making-of Mother and additional featurettes on production design, casting, cinematography, and the musical score.
Starring: Kim Hye-ja, Won Bin, Jin Goo, Yoon Je-moon
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Runtime: 129 minutes
Distributor: Magnolia Home Entertainment