Directed by: Joon-ho Bong
Written by: Eun-kyo Park & Joon-ho Bong
Starring: Hye-ja Kim, Bin Won, Ku Jin, and Yoon Jae-Moon
To call Mother, the latest effort from seminal South Korean filmmaker Joon-ho Bong, obscure would be putting it lightly. Rarely does a movie of such visual beauty have such an odd sense of humor, especially when the subject matter is so dark. It begins with its small female protagonist dancing alone in the middle of a wheat field. It ends with the same dance, this time in a crowded bus. It’s hard to describe a reaction to this, and I’m sure it will differ for many viewers. However, it summarizes the movie quite well.
What begins as an odd tale of a mother/handicapped son relationship quickly saunters into an intriguing murder mystery. When her son (Bin Won) is accussed of the murder of the local nympho, the unnamed mother (Hye-ja Kim) sets out to prove his innocence.
What you’ll get out of this film that you wouldn’t out of a Hollywood movie with a similar premise are surprises, lots of them. The screenplay, by Bong and Eun-ku Park, may not have the best dialogue in spots, but you’ll be intrigued by the plot from start to extremely satisfying finish. Rarely do good mysteries have conclusions that can match the rest of the material. This one does, even if the rest of the material suffers a bit for it.
A plethora of interesting characters abound in the story. Hye-ja Kim conveys the haunted love for her character’s son extremely well. I haven’t seen many performances this year that are even worthy of whispering talk of an Oscar nomination, but her’s is worthy. Her character is taken to the edge when her son is accused of a murder she is sure he didn’t commit. Without a terrific lead performance, the premise would’ve fallen on its ass.
Though none of the rest of the cast matches the emotionally devestating performance of Kim, they hold the line fairly well. As her mentally challenged son, Bin Won is captivating to watch, especially as he searches his memory for things he saw that night, notably one that either clears or convicts him of the crime.
Joon-ho Bong proves himself a master storyteller with this story. Smart allusions to Hitchcock aside, he has paved a unique path for himself as one of the premier Pacific filmmakers working today. The scene where the mother hides in a closet to avoid being caught in the house she broke into is perfect. As she sneaks out while the people are sleeping, she tips a bottle of water. The loud crash doesn’t wake them up, but as the camera moves to floor level, we see the water begin to inch towards the man’s fingers. The series of cuts combined with the concept are terrific.
Though this visually-striking film is sometimes clouded, it is an intriguing and unique murder mystery with real suspense and bite. I wouldn’t say it reinvigorates the murder mystery, but it’s a good, almost great, genre exercise well worth getting tangled up in.