Monday, June 01, 2009

The Mother of All Thrills

I saw Bong Joon-ho's MOTHER over the weekend and quite liked it. I thought perhaps I should write up a little review of sorts, so here you go.

Bong Joon-ho's latest film, MOTHER, is a departure from his last two films, MEMORIES OF MURDER and THE HOST, lacking much of the humor and scope that made them so memorable. Instead, MOTHER is a much darker and more personal story; but it is without a doubt a Bong tale -- smart, powerful and really engrossing.

MOTHER is the story of the mother of a retarded young man (Won Bin) who must save her son when he is arrested for murdering a high school girl. The police jumped the gun, arresting him on some pretty weak evidence, then pressuring the son Do-joon to sign a release he did not understand.

Determined to free her son no matter what, the mother relentlessly (even ruthlessly) pursues any lead she can. After a few false turns and a lot of apathy from the town officials, she begins to uncover a deeper story, involving a troubled young girl who had a really rough life.

Set in a small town and dealing with a murder investigation, MOTHER has some obvious similarities to MEMORIES OF MURDER. But the focus and style of MOTHER is really different.

The first half of MOTHER focuses more on Do-joon, setting up his character and his friend. There is an incident at a golf course that is one of the few light spots in the movie, but it felt a little unnatural and awkward. Only after Do-joon is arrested and the spotlight moves to his mother that the story really begins to get into gear.

But once it gets going, MOTHER is really good. Kim Hye-ja is great as the obsessive mother, and her desperation gives the movie much of its power. You never know quite what she is going to do, even while suspecting she might do anything. It adds up to create a kind of emotional claustrophobia that really hits hard.

Now, while I said this film is not as deep or analytical as some of Bong's other films, there is evidently a lot going on anyway. There is plenty of psychology happening throughout. The relationship between mother and son especially is anything but normal. The mother's recurring talk of an injection in the thigh to take away bad memories is quite suggestive.

Another thing that struck me was the age difference between Do-joon and his mom. Although never clearly stated in the film, Do-joon is played by the 27-year-old Won Bin, while the mother is played by the 67-year-old Kim Hye-ja. And while having a baby at 40 years old is not unheard of, it is still a little unusual.

In short, MOTHER is not without flaws, but it is the best Korean movie I have seen in quite some time. Maybe since THE CHASER. It is thrilling, scary, violent and unexpected ... really a gripping combination.


Justin said...

I love Bong Joon-ho. His part of Tokyo! is surreal, but humane(and funny as hell). Its like Kafka on film(but, again,funnier).

The DVD drops June 30th (i think). You can pre-order on the website

Kobe said...

Thanks for the really nice little review, as I'm now a lot more interested in this movie.

Won Bin is actually 31 years old BTW, but I guess your point still stands :)

Tim said...

I loved this film, too. In fact, I would even go so far as to say it is Bong Joon-ho's most fully-realized and controlled film thus far. It's not quite perfect, as you said, but it's a lot closer than most Korean films these days (and easily blows away Thirst). For some reason, it felt a bit like a 70s film to me (I mean that in a good way). BTW, isn't this Bong's first use of the full 2.35:1 widescreen ratio? Loved the cinematography.

Anonymous said...

anyone know if & when 'Mother'/'Madeo' is being released in the UK????