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Mother (2009) ****

March 19, 2010

  

  

written by: Eun-kyo Park  & Joon-ho Bong

produced by: Jai-Won Choi, Tae-joon Park & Woo-sik Seo

directed by: Joon-ho Bong

Rated R for language, some sexual content, violence and drug use.

128 min.

South Korean release date: May, 28, 2009

U.S. release date: March 12, 2010

 

 

It’s a well-known fact that in the animal kingdom you don’t mess with a mother’s offspring unless you’re prepared to deal with her wrath. Nothing comes between a mother and her child. South Korean director Bong Joon-ho knows this and is aware that a protective mother can be as intense as a lioness protecting her cub. His latest film is a riveting murder mystery which examines how far one mother will go to seek justice for her son. Just as Joon-ho’s fantastic last film, “The Host”, revitalized the monster movie genre, he delivers a level of suspense comparable to Hitchcock. From start to finish, this is a film that immediately grabs a viewer’s curiosity and takes them in unsuspecting directions.

Yoon Hye-ja (Kim Hye-ja) has a shop in a small Korean town where she is an herbalist and an unlicensed acupuncturist on the side. She lives with her only son, Do-joon (Won Bin), and keeps a watchful eye on his activities. He may be in his mid 20’s, yet he’s developmentally slow leaving his maturity at the level of a 3rd grader, making his mother’s job a greater challenge. She thinks his only friend, Jin-tae (Jin Ku) is a bad influence on him so she closely monitors them from her workplace. Sure enough, the two friends mix it up with a group of golfers after a hit-and-run leaving Do-joon’s mother to bail them out. It’s clear this has happened before

 

Hoon-jo establishes comical and intriguing characters in these opening scenes in preparation for what is to come. He sharply turns a dramatic corner by displaying the dead body of a teen girl on the edge of a roof for the whole town to see. All evidence and suspicion points to Do-joon since he was the last to see the girl. To his mother’s disbelief, the police haul him away and coerce the poor guy into confession. She knows her son could not have done such an act and soon finds herself dealing with detectives who have closed the case and a shyster lawyer who strings her along. Taking matters into her own hands, she begins to question the locals, occasionally getting unsuspected help as she does anything she can to expose the truth. What this devoted mother discovers as she seeks the real killer is just as shocking to the audience as it is to her.

A plot that has a mother become the lead gumshoe needs a convincing actress to pull off the title character’s investigation. Kim is outstanding in a role that demands the actress use every emotional facet at her disposal with just the appropriate timing. She responds openly and honestly to each situation portraying a haunted soul who, as a mother,  is far from perfect. Not knowing anything about Kim, I came to find out that she is basically the Meryl Streep of Korea, having been in countless film and TV series. Hoon-jo came up with the idea of a protective mother having watching his wife with their child and reportedly couldn’t  imagine anyone else but Kim play the film’s mother. It’s apparent that she relishes the opportunity to lose herself in such a fascinating character.

 

Just like in “The Host” everything about this film feels meticulously and methodically crafted. The cinematography is sweeping, frenzied and nerve-wracking all in the right areas and delicate score is right in tune with the palpable emotions onscreen. The direction though slowly reveals one shock after the next which is just as refreshing as a fifty-something female protagonist. Credit must be given as well to the superb script which has some incredibly challenging revelations at the end resulting in sublime unease.

After making it’s way in the festivals last year, it is currently in limited theatrical release which means it will likely be difficult to find unless you buy it in import Blu-Ray or catch it On-Demand. This is a film that needs to be discovered, revisited and passed on to others. It’s not blatant horror but it is terrifying. It doesn’t play for gags but it is at times, hilarious. You won’t find a more overall satisfying film-viewing experience that feels as new as it is rewarding.

 

 
 
  
  
 

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