Mother (2009)


When her simple son is sent to prison for the murder of a local girl, Boon Joon-Ho’s Mother springs into action. Thank you, Mommie dearest.


Some Kind of Monster by Michael Edwards

CAUTION: Here be spoilers.

If Boon Joon-Ho is best known outside of Korea for his monster movie The Host, it is another type of monster that may make his subsequent films essential viewing here.  The singularly titled Mother is, on the surface, a murder mystery, but by way of comedy and tragedy and shot through with bold and purposeful moments of the bizarre and the absurd. Above all though, it is a story of motherly love taken to its very limits and forced, under extremes circumstances, to exhibit the full extent of its limitless, monstrously maternal power.

The film, visually delightful and beautifully edited, begins genially, comically, but grows in force as the events unfold and a brooding menace stalks it relentlessly right through to its last and lasting moments. Yoon Do-joon is the Mother’s son (she remains unnamed), an easily lovable but simple boy lacking the intellectual faculties of an adult, but it’s also apparent that he is no fool; smart enough to be enraged at being called retarded and more knowing than he seems. He is though an easy target. Always on the fringes of trouble and no stranger to the police, more through mischief than maliciousness and the time-honoured tradition of the simple guy with a bad line in friends. There is an inevitability that Do-Joon’s life of tomfoolery and near innocence is going to come crashing undone and so it does when a local girl is found murdered and Do-joon, the nearest to the crime, drunk and with no alibi, is the obvious suspect. No match for the wiles of police, he is soon confessing and it is at this moment that the monster awakes.

Until now Do-Joon’s mother has been yoked to a life of perpetual worry and fear for his wellbeing. It’s the purpose and the curse of all mothers that they should spend their lives fretting ceaselessly over their children and Kim Hye-Ja as the mother depicts this brilliantly. She and Do-Joon are so tightly woven together through their circumstances that once the bond is threatened she has no choice but to to pursue justice and the restoration of the bond to whatever end her pitiless pursuit will take her. Fuelled by the certainty of innocence that only a mother could feel for a son  she sets out on a crusade to uncover the truth. There is no limit to what she will do, what forces she is able to summon for the love of her son. From here the film unfolds in strange, unexpected ways and as in all good mysteries nothing is quite what it first appears to be; least of all mother and son.

The film juggles many tones and styles which could have come dangerously close to creating a discordant jittery mess, but Joon-Ho manages to keep all the balls in the air and over the course of its many twists, turns and tonal detours pulls the trick off wonderfully. If the narrative is not always easy or obvious, the sum of its parts are to be applauded for the the sheer confidence, scope and audacity of the storytelling. Above all this stands the towering presence of the mother, a beast of a creation and a phenomenal performance that give the film its undoubted power. Some kind of monster indeed.

Mother is released in the UK on 20th August 2010.

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