Sunday, March 28, 2010
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Producer: Moon Yang-kwon, Seo Woo-sik and Park Tae-joon
Cast: Kim Hye-ja, Won Bin, Jin Goo, Yoon Jae-moon, Jun Mi-sun, Song Sae-beauk, Moon Hee-ra
Crime mystery, 2 hours 9 minutes
Korean, with English subtitles
After making the monster-movie hit Gwoemul (The Host), Bong Joon-ho returns to the crime drama with the suspenseful Madeo (Mother). But this one is also harder to categorize. It combines various elements of other genres to produce something uniquely intriguing. Mother is another masterful film from Bong and one senses that his talent and skill just keep growing.
An unnamed mother (Kim Hye-ja) dotes heavily on her mentally challenged son Do-joon (Won Bin). He’s easily led astray by his friend Jin-tae (Jin Goo) and she does all she can to keep him out of trouble. When a murder takes place, however, police easily extract a confession from him. She tries to exonerate him but the police and lawyers are apathetic, so she takes it upon herself to find the real killer. In the process, she uncovers other uncomfortable truths.
Kim’s portrayal of the mother is riveting. She presents the mother as gentle and devoted, yet capable of deep ferocity. Could her maternal be incestuous? Murderous? The film explores the ways in which love intersects with sex and death.
Bong skillfully foreshadows many of the story points with beautiful cinematography and witty images. The shots of spilled liquid prefigure later shots of spilled blood. One particularly clever shot near the beginning shows the mother feeding her son a bowl of soup as he urinates on the wall. It’s funny, but it shows that what comes from him also comes from her. Scenes of her work as an herbalist and acupuncturist recur throughout as well. She encourages him to remember the past by rubbing the sides of his head, what she refers to as the “the temple of doom.” Later, she’ll use needles to help him forget.
Though leisurely and slow, the film never bores with its quiet intensity. Mother recently won Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Screenplay at the Asian Film Awards. All three were well-deserved.