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DRE #444020

Film Review


If Hitchcock had been Korean, this is the film he would have made. Bong Joon-ho, who did the wonderfully imaginative, campy monster film, The Host, has directed Mother, a murder mystery, also campy, but with equally imaginative touches. Do-joon is a somewhat autistic young man who still lives with his mother in a small town. She runs an herb shop, does acupuncture illegally, and we see her in the opening scene, walking, then dancing alone in a field of tall grass. Do-joon is introduced as we watch him from the herb shop, playing across the street with a dog, which leads to the first of many chapters in this film. He still sleeps with his mother, her arm sweetly around him, just as when he was a young child. His one friend seems to be Jin Tae, who is much more worldly, owns a car, and runs a tiny fishing and bait business on a river. The incident in the street, after a comic sequence, leads ultimately to the police station, but finally Do-joon is returned to his doting mother. The tone soon darkens. One evening Do-joon is out late at a bar, waiting for his friend, Jin Tae, to show up. The friend never makes it, so late at night Do-joon begins to walk home. He sees a school girl walking ahead of him, and tries to talk to her, but his awkward and aggressive approach repel her, and she disappears into a building. Do-joon, depressed and still drunk, heads home. The next morning the school girl is found murdered, with her body displayed on a roof top. This is a small town, where everyone knows everyone else, with the police depicted as comically inept, ready to arrest the first suspect and ignore any other evidence. So Do-joon is arrested, and soon signs a confession. But his mother is convinced that he is innocent, and had no idea what he was signing. She is determined to prove him innocent, and her quest begins what is really the heart of the film. All of this has happened in the first 40 minutes, then the film begins to veer into a darker place, with the mother discovering an ugliness and corruption that would do Hitchcock proud.

The camera work here is nothing short of outstanding. The director seems to alternate gorgeous vistas of the Korean countryside with very arty closeups, often from unusual angles or vantage points. One shot shows the mother's hand against a frosted glass panel in a door that she is slowly opening. First we see the out of focus silhouette of her hand, then her head peeks around the door. Most of the sweeping views are simply beautiful, including a breath taking panorama of a graveyard in a small valley. This is one of the most handsome films that I have seen in some time. The acting is uniformly excellent, and the actress playing the mother runs away with the film. Her facial expressions are varied and wonderful. And we see the dynamics of a small town, often astonishingly similar to here. But basically this is a thriller, and thrill it does. The tension keeps building, and surprise after surprise only heighten the effect. Are we seeing what we think we are seeing? Yet through all this is a thread of black humor, and, as in his earlier film, quirkiness. In the last ten years, the South Korean film industry has produced more than its share of fine films, and according to industry figures, Koreans now watch more domestic films than imports. Many, like this one, have unusual stories or tackle difficult social issues. Mother is an exceptionally well done work that will hold you riveted, even though fairly long (128 min.). As usual, try to see this on the big screen. Just opened at the Clay.

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