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Mother (2009)

August 10, 2010

VERDICT:
8/10 Helicopter Moms

Man, chalk up another one for South Korea.

Mother is about an aging back-alley acupuncturist whose mentally handicapped son winds up being scapegoated for the murder of a local High School girl. She goes to the cops, they turn out to be corrupt and unwilling to re-open the case, she goes to a lawyer, he’s about as useful as a noose, and before long she realizes that if she’s ever going to vindicate her boy, she’s gonna have to take matters in her own hands, whatever the cost may be.

So this here is the sophomore full-length effort by South Korean wonder boy Bong Joon-ho (or Joon-ho Bong, I really have no idea), a guy who I hear has been kicking a whole lot of ass since his debut, The Host, ended up being the biggest thing to hit S.K. since…well, I don’t know what. They did host the Summer Olympics back in ’88, so that was probably a big deal. God, I’m sheltered…

Anyway, I wish I had more to say on the guy, but as it sometimes happens when I try to multitask watching a subtitled movie while surfing the internet (horrible idea), I never really gave The Host the fair shot it deserved and still to this day don’t have much of opinion on the matter outside walking away from it with a vague sense of satisfaction that I couldn’t put my finger on. But after learning from my mistakes and giving Mother my full, undivided attention this past weekend, I think I’m gonna be following suit with The Host again any day now.

Now, this is one crazy little movie. Based on the trailers, I went into this thinking I knew exactly what the tone was gonna be and what I was setting myself up for (something along the lines of The Lives of Others), but then the opening credits boot up and we’re treated to a completely unexplained and strangely awesome solo interpretive dance routine from our vigilante mom in the middle of a beautiful open field. It’s weird, it definitely isn’t the way The Lives of Others starts out, and as soon as I double-checked to make sure I popped in the right disc, I smiled and realized that I was in for something else.

And that right there is kinda Mother in a nutshell. It blends this otherwise very serious situation about a seemingly victimized kid who has no means of defending himself from the fate that befalls him and his poverty-stricken mother who will walk to the ends of the Earth and back to prove to the world that her helpless son is an innocent man with this quirky, deadpan and oddly tragic sense of humor that does a great job of taking the edge off and in turn accentuating the seriousness of the situation when there really isn’t a whole lot to laugh about. It can’t be easy to juggle these conflicting tones from start to finish while cranking up the suspense and keeping the audience guessing with each new turn, but Bong’s pretty much the man when it comes to this and it’s a big reason why this movie stands out from your everyday South Korean murder mystery.

It’s also a visual stunner not only when it comes to the cinematography, but apparently the South Korean countryside is effing gorgeous, too. Who knew?

The acting is also great from everyone involved, and considering that I tend to have a hard time judging whether or not someone’s got chops when I have to read all their lines at the same time, that sure counts for something. But the real dramatic force here is Kim Hye-ja as the mother, and not just because she’s such a kickass dancer. She’s an emotional powerhouse who gets it done without going overboard and it really is that much cooler when the junior detective on the case is the one woman you’d probably never imagine in the part. Great job.

I thought I knew exactly what to except from Mother, but aren’t the best surprises always the ones you don’t see coming? It takes a bit to get going, but once things start to unravel, it gets awfully intense and it’s hard not to get caught up in wanting to see how it all plays out.

Bong Joon-ho, man. This guy’s alright. Probably the coolest guy named “Bong” that I know.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. August 10, 2010 3:51 am

    You funny.

    I haven’t seen this yet, been meaning too, but I got other Netflix obligations.

    • August 11, 2010 8:36 am

      I know the drill. Let me know when it finally makes it to that #1 slot.

  2. August 10, 2010 11:23 am

    Nice to see you reviewing some ‘world cinema’ (Gawd, I hate that term). I just hope people listen. There’s a ton of great stuff out there.

    • August 11, 2010 8:31 am

      My thoughts exactly, man. Getting ’em to listen is the trick, but it’s always worth it if it’s good.

  3. August 11, 2010 7:56 am

    This guy has done more than two films. He also did the superb MEMORIES OF MURDER (which I believe was before THE HOST), which I think is one of the best crime thrillers/detective stories of the last ten years. MOTHER was ultimately rather off-putting to me and I would consider it the least of his works…but I like Bong overall as well.

    • August 11, 2010 8:03 am

      Never even heard of that, putting it on the Netflix queue immediately. God, really need to watch The Host again.

  4. August 11, 2010 8:24 am

    Ah ha! I found it! I knew I had done a review of M.O.M:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0353969/usercomments-23

    • August 11, 2010 8:38 am

      Haha, thanks for the heads up. Will give it a look.

      • Santosh permalink
        July 31, 2012 2:01 am

        The director’s first film is actually, “Barking Dogs Never Bite” followed by “Memories of Murder”, “Host” and “Mother”. Pretty impressive line up he has there!

      • August 1, 2012 11:24 am

        You said it! Really need to see Barking Dogs already. Crossing my fingers that it’s as good as the others, although that’s one royally tall order to fill.

        Do you have a favorite of the four?

      • Santosh permalink
        August 1, 2012 12:08 pm

        I think Memories would be my favourite from the lot. I’m also partial towards investigative procedural films. Barking dogs would be a close second. Its a classic case of how a huge budget isn’t necessary for a really good film. The story is bursting with brilliance. Mother would probably be third followed by Host. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t like it. Its a very good film in itself but with such an impressive line-up it didn’t measure up to the rest IMO. Maybe the lack of funds did hurt the cgi and took me away from the story slightly. Bottom line, the director is a treat to watch. South korea just keeps producing these gems.

      • August 3, 2012 12:13 pm

        Memories so, so good. If I didn’t love The Host so much, Memories would be an easy #1. It’s been a couple years since I’ve seen it, by actually liked the CGI quite a bit and thought they did a bang-up job of integrating the monster with real-life actors. Either way, I wholeheartedly agree that he’s one of the best working directors out there right now.

        And just added Barking Dogs to the Instant Queue, so will be reporting back on that one.

      • Santosh permalink
        August 4, 2012 12:04 pm

        Would love to hear your review on “Barking Dogs Never Bite”. Do you follow any other korean directors? I saw a couple from Hong Sang-Soo. They’re strictly arthouse. You could try them if you are into those kinds of films. A bit like Jim Jarmusch I would say.

      • August 8, 2012 9:09 am

        I do want to see The Day He Arrives, which is the only Sang-Soo movie I know of, and since it got released in the US this year, I’ll most definitely be seeing it and reviewing it one of these days. Definitely looks like Jarmusch now that you mention it. Pretty unfamiliar with other SK directors unfortunately, but always anxious to learn more. Thanks for the heads up!

  5. Smally permalink
    August 18, 2010 11:19 am

    Hey Aiden. Thought I’d help clarify… the director’s last name is Bong and his first name is Joon-ho. Koreans (among others) always identify themselves with the family name first. And first names are usually a two-parter, but casually, I’m betting he just goes by Joon. Hope this helped!

    • September 1, 2010 2:54 pm

      Wow. You rock. That was a huge help and I was not expecting to get an answer like this. So when I do my Host review, should it be Joon-ho Bong or vice-versa, just to clarify and all. Thanks!

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