A mother lives quietly with her twenty-eight-year-old son, Do-joon, providing herbs and acupuncture to neighbors. One day, a girl is brutally murdered, and Do-joon is charged with the killing. Now, it’s his mother’s call whether to prove him innocent or to leave him imprisoned
“Mother” written and directed by Korean master Joon-ho Bong, who also brought us “The Host”, has crafted an incredibly tight film that uses old school techniques to thrill, entertain, and at times shock you. The proceedings could not be unique without a lead who can draw us in then blow us away but veteran actress Hye-ja Kim gives a performance that is haunting and heartbreaking, written into a story that is brilliant in execution and thrilling up to the very end. This is yet another example how foreign cinema has learned to take old ideas and breathe new life into them where we still have yet to figure it out.
Hye-ja Kim is the title character, a simple woman who’s life revolves around one thing, her 27 year old son Do-joon (Bin Won). He is mentally handicapped and is constantly ridiculed by those around him. He has the face of an angel and the mind of a child who can never seem to remember things. When a local girl is murdered and her body found slung over the edge of a rooftop like drying laundry, Do-joon is arrested for the murder. Now Mother will set out to unravel the truth, find out what really happened, and see that her son is cleared of the charges.
We have seen this set up many times before but what Bong does here is set up characters. The first half of the film is spent learning about these characters, the relationship between mother and son is by far the most interesting. Mother is overbearing to a fault but her intentions are in the right place, even though her mind isn’t. Do-joon wants to be his age, he wants to have girlfriends and hang out with the guys. But both are obviously and immediately set up as being somewhat mentally ill, maybe even a bit retarded. Bong begins building the suspense right away after the events have been set in motion, we know she is unstable, though we never know to what lengths she will go. The movie creeps along at a slow pace but somehow this pacing just really works for this film. You’re rewarded by investing your time.
I really am not surprised by much in films anymore but there were a couple of twists that I never saw coming.The film has a gritty edge to it at times but still manages to show off the beauty of some of the landscapes. Most of this is over looked since the characters are so strong. We never know to what lengths Mother will go to save her son and that is the driving question. How far would you go? The love a parent has for their child is that strong for most people, hers is no exception, but the way she perceives things makes it a bit terrifying. We learn the truth about things the same time that she does and it is next to impossible to predict how she ends up reacting.
In this day and age it is almost unheard of to make oddball films. “Mother” isn’t an oddball film, it is a thriller or mystery that draws inspiration from the classics and creates a whole new beast by filling the world that exists in it with characters that are different and odd. The characters themselves are unpredictable which then helps to make the story unpredictable. Not everyone can handle the pacing, it does move at a very slow pace, but the ride is worth taking and the suspense does build. If not for the twists and turns, then the film should at least be viewed for the powerhouse of a performance by Hye-ja Kim. She is absolutely riveting and roles like this, especially for women, are almost never found in American cinema. Bong is an incredibly talented filmmaker who’s next project, whatever it may be, is now on my radar.