Mother (2010)

Directed By: Bong Joon-ho
Written By: Bong Joon-ho
  Park Wun-Kyo
Starring: Kim Hye-ja
  Won Bin
  Jin Goo
  Jae-Moon Yoon

Mother is twisted, twisting, visually arresting and brilliantly acted. It is also overly-long, confused and hard to relate to. Overall it’s a bizarre mixture of excellent and awkward, but it’s well worth a watch if you have the time.

Do-joon has been arrested for murdering a school girl. He signs the police confession, but not because he thinks he did it – he’s very slow, simple and easily led – Do-joon is bullied into becoming the only suspect in a vicious murder case. His doting mother is the only person who openly believes in Do-joon’s innocence, and Mother decides to launch her own investigation when the police unceremoniously close the case, deciding it’s solved.

Mother’s questions and searching lead her down some dark paths, with conspiracy, break-ins, kidnap and torture suddenly cascading around her. But a mother would do anything to prove her son innocent. Anything.

Mother is not as simple as the above premise suggests, and it twists and turns from one scene to the next, laying down a story the writer / director team clearly wanted to tell. It’s compelling enough, but at times feels it could’ve been edited better and some of the flab sliced away. The plot is tight, but the scenes fall short of a brilliance that seems tantalizing close.

Luckily, even when the scenes begin to drag, the direction and cinematography make up for it. It is shot smartly, occasionally beautifully, and there are some excellent moments – car crash, murder re-enactment, sneaking through the house – which makes Mother always watchable. The soundscape is also brilliant – a raw, crunching sound that can be beautiful and threatening from one moment to the next.

Director Bong Joon-ho is responsible for insane monster-movie The Host and the quality crime thriller Memories of Murder, and Joon-ho thankfully retains his kooky, sly humour within Mother. Occasionally it is laugh-out-loud funny, but also incredibly subtle at times, with Mother director / co-writer Joon-ho fusing drama, horror, satire, suspense, love and comedy together expertly. He creates a labyrinthine thriller that heads in unexpected directions at all times. This may prove too awkward or feel undisciplined to some, yet it kicks the thriller genre in the crotch and takes it to bizarre and interesting new places.

Essentially Mother focuses on the relationship between Mother (Kim Hye-Ja) and her son (Won Bin), who are a bizarre family unit. They are played to perfection by Hye-Ja and Bin, utterly believable in their strange situation. Bin especially excels, depicting the mentally deficient Do-joon realistically and with a pitying charm that makes him instantly likeable. The majority of characters in Mother, however, are exceedingly difficult to relate to – this could be a cultural issue or simply because Joon-ho’s sense of humour is seriously off-kilter at times – and although you recognize the people and understand them, you find it hard to love and sympathize with them.

Mother is well directed, acted and visually stunning in many places. It is over-long and impossible to emphasize with, but it is never boring and always compelling. A good piece of work that just falls short of being superb. Director Joon-ho is certainly a talent to watch in the future.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

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