Joon-ho Bong, the Korean writer and director, likes to write about inadequate people finding themselves in situations they aren’t exactly clever enough to figure out, which makes the journey for the audience that much more enjoyable and that much more tragic in the end, because we might be able to see a way out they cannot.
In his film Memories of Murder, we follow a group of incompetent back water Detectives as they try to find a rapist-serial killer before the next victim is taken down. In The Host a family of dunces bands together to save the youngest daughter from a bio-chemically created monster. In both instances (both great movies, by the way) Joon-ho tells his stories with a healthy dose of biting satire, ever growing dread and a cinematic eye rarely found in America. With his newest thriller Mother, Joon-ho continues his steady climb as one of the best International directors by following the same guidlines.
Like the title suggests the film is about a Mother, who shares a particularly strange relationship with her son (Who is the equivalent of the village idiot.), as she tries to get him off murder charges that both are certain he didn’t commit. Reread that last line and you’ll see the wonderful tightrope Joon-ho walks in telling this story. Wouldn’t it be obvious that the son is certain he didn’t kill someone? Mother and son are dependent on each other in ways people shouldn’t be dependent on each other…even lovers.
That the film is full of twists and turns and wonderfully drawn characters aren’t it’s only joys. There’s further joy in realizing how all of these clues the Mother stumbles upon that lead us in one direction, suddenly and quite logically makes sense in another way completely as we come to find out what actually happened. The irony in the final few “reveals” aren’t just clever, but emotionally jarring, because of how synchronized everything is.
Joon-ho is playing with perception. How characters perceive other characters, how we perceive those characters, but most importantly how the characters perceive themselves. There are no cheats here. Take notes mystery writers: all three are necessary to create a gripping mystery. In considering this, maybe I was wrong when I said the characters are inadequate, maybe they’re simply self-delusional. In the end the reason why we want to see all of this figured out, is perhaps the reason why all of it occurred.
There is a joy we won’t be able to experience. The actress that plays the Mother, Hye-ja Kim, is supposedly the Donna Reed of Korea, so to see her play this anti-Donna Reed character…aw well, I guess we’ll have to do with just watching such a great movie.
As a side note, if each year a film comes out from either Joon-ho Bing, Chan-wook Park, or Guillermo del Toro, I will be a happy movie-goer.