Thursday, April 8, 2010


I saw the Korean film Mother directed by Joon-ho Bong. Bong previously directed The Host (which I did not see) and the Shaking Tokyo segment of Tokyo!.

Mother; Korean with subtitles; (2009) - Official Website

The story involves an odd young man. Don't call him "retard" or he'll react his mother has taught him to do. He confesses to murdering a school girl although he seems quite confused during the police interrogation. To be fair, the man is confused most of the time he is on screen so he's acts no differently after being arrested. His (overly?) protective mother rushes into action. She knows her son could not have committed the murder so she launches her own investigation to find the real killer.

Bong directs a whodunit with nice twists and turns. The film relies on coincidences and other plot devices that are too contrived by a bit (many Korean films I've seen do this) but overall the effect is a serviceable twist on the detective story.

Hye-ja Kim as the nameless Mother elevates the story. This film could not have been made in the US; at least not for wide release. The mother-son relationship in this film is dysfunctional without being over-the-top. To start with the son (a man in his 20's) still sleeps in the same bed with his mother. Stumbling drunk into bed one night, he collapses and instrinctively reaches for his mother's breast. Transferred sexual frustration or age-inappropriate maternal needs? I don't know but the mother doesn't protest too much as if it is a regular occurrence. In another scene, the man urinates against a wall while waiting for a bus. The mother comes to the bus stop to give him a bowl of "medicine." She holds the bowl up to his lips while he uses his hands to control the urine flow. The mother gazes at his penis for an uncomfortable length of time. I don't think it was sexual. It was more like she wanted to make sure everything was ok down there. I guess public urination isn't a concern for her. She also shows an unusual interest in the urine puddle.

I haven't even unleashed the biggest transgression. She attempted a murder-suicide with her son when he was 5 years old by poisoning the two of them. She used a cheap, diluted brand of insecticide so the attempt failed. Is that what made him the son the way he is?

The Mother reveals quite a bit of abhorrent behavior - voyeurism, teenage prostitution, slimy lawyers, beatings, etc. After an introductory side story (mainly to establish the characters but also to explain a golf ball), the film focuses on Kim as the Mother and her warped journey to prove her son's innocence. The tagline sums it up nicely - "She'll stop at nothing."

The film is certainly worth seeing but undoubtedly, much of the buzz around it is because it is directed by the director of The Host.

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