Fashion plate titled "Soir de Paris" by Pierre Mourgue, 1922
Bong Joon-Ho, the acclaimed Korean director, may only have a few features under his belt, but I've been impressed with his last three movies, including his newest one, Mother. Like The Host and Memories of Murder, Mother is an unconventional thriller with the odd plot twists and tonal shifts that we've come to expect from Korea's best contemporary filmmakers. It's also his third consecutive film showing an intense interest in the treatment of the mentally disabled in Korean culture, following the childlike murder suspect of Memories of Murder (2003) and the lobotomized protagonist of The Host (2006) with a story that revolves around a young man named Do-Joon. Do-Joon has mental disabilities and lives with his mother in a small Korean town - caught in the wrong place in the wrong time, Do-Joon becomes the prime suspect in the murder investigation of a young girl.
Bong revisits some of the weirdness of Korean police work that was the focus of Memories of Murder in showing how Do-Joon is railroaded into confessing by the detectives. And this is where Do-Joon's mother gets involved - played masterfully by Korean TV actress Kim Hye-Ja, Do-Joon's "Mother" is the movie's emotional center. A mild-mannered herbalist and unlicensed accupuncture practitioner, Mother is an unlikely vigilante, but she is forced to continue an investigation that the police have given up on, having found their scapegoat in her helpless son. In looking for the girl's real killer, Mother exposes some of the unspoken truths of small-town life in Korea as she discovers how a normal girl could become the target of violence. She is also forced to examine her relationship with her son and some difficult memories of the years raising him.
The tension and violence swirl around the placid and determined Mother as she moves between scenes that are impressive vignettes about small-town culture, as well as visually compelling bits of film-making. Bong's style is less extreme here than it was in The Host for sure, with the crazy swings between comedy and suspense toned down a little. It's more apt to compare Mother with the similar Memories of Murder, but Bong takes a similar set-up in a completely different direction here to explore more personal themes. Won Bin has the film's most difficult role as the disabled Do-Joon, but his performance is quite good. Also worthy of mention are the excellent performances of the supporting cast, including Jin Ku and Yoon Jae-Moon (who I really liked in the otherwise unimpressive crime drama Dirty Carnival). With a pitch-perfect ending that left me stunned, I was surprised to find Mother superior to Bong's 2003 film, which is one of my favorites.
"Mothers" by Jean-Paul Sartre Experience