Saturday, April 24, 2010

Movie Review: "Mother"

Mother is the latest film from Korean auteur Bong Joon-Ho. The director is best known for his quirky dip into the monster genre with The Host (2006), but Mother is a return to the crime drama of his 2003 film Memories of Murder. This quite amazing work has been awarded best film, best screenwriter and best actress at the recent Asian Film Awards, and was Korea's nominee for last year's Academy Awards (it inexplicably did not make the shortlist).

The film revolves around Do-Joon (Won Bin) a young man whose slow wits leave him vulnerable to being taken advantage of, and often lead him into mischief alongside his only friend, the shifty and manipulative Jin-Tae (Jin Gu). He is watched over by his elderly mother (Kim Hye-Ja), whose life revolves around caring for her son and keeping him out of trouble.

When a schoolgirl ends up murdered, the police waste no time in arresting Do-Joon and extracting a confession out of him. But his mother rightly suspects a fit-up, and when the legal system abandons her she resolves to free him by finding the murderer herself. An old woman playing amateur detective might sound reminiscent of Murder She Wrote and is hardly a new idea, but Bong takes it in new and unexpected directions.

While it revolves around the murder case, the emphasis of the film is really the bond between mother and son, and the lengths a mother will go to to protect her young. Their relationship borders on the creepy, with her love for Do-Joon being quite obsessive in nature, and her increasing desperation to prove his innocence leads her down an increasingly dark path.

If this film has a flaw it is in Bong's rather unhurried style, and several scenes go longer than they probably need to. But he more than makes up for this with some cunning plot twists that come just as you suspect the film may be getting predictable. Kim Hye-Ja steals the show in the titular role, which was apparently written specifically for her (she is a well-known veteran of Korean soap operas). She perfectly captures the combination of obsession, emotional frailty and steely determination that defines her intriguing character.

Like the best mysteries, its conclusion is entirely unexpected, yet inevitable; once the truth is discovered, it all makes perfect and disturbing sense. Up until that point, it is merely a good film, but the climax reveals it as a great one.

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