Directed by Joon-ho Bong

Crime/Drama/Mystery, 128′

Joon-ho Bong, director of ‘The Host’ and Memories of Murder, brings us this powerful and beautiful crime drama about a mother’s desperate attempt to find the killer that framed her son for murder.

Twenty-eight year old Do-joon is the apple of his mother’s eye. He is shy, but prone to violence when anyone mocks his intelligence, and when a schoolgirl is found dead on a roof top, circumstantial evidence puts him as a suspect. When he is charged with and imprisoned for the girl’s murder, his mother puts it upon herself to do the police work, and sets out to find the real killer.

‘Mother’ is a psychological thriller that constantly keeps the audience unnerved and disturbed. Scenes are deliberately used to shake the audience up, and avoid adhering to conventions of the genre are placed randomly. When Do-joon is taken away in handcuffs, the police car is barely at the end of the street when a van ploughs into the side of it. Random scenes like this that have no particular relevance to the story are used to constantly undermine conventions and keep the audience on their toes.

Kim Hye-ja, well known for playing matriachal figures on Korean television, delivers an outstanding performance as Do joon’s long suffering yet totally devoted mother. Her inner turmoil is moving and at times hard to watch, she brings a youthful strength to the character of an old woman and is a refreshingly powerful character.

The mother-son relationship is uncomfortable at times, the ambiguity occasionally leaning towards a sordid, incestuous relationship without actually pushing the boundary. Although he is twenty-eight, his learning difficulties leave him with a much younger mental age, so when he acts like a child his mother treats him like one.

The close relationship they share puts an emphasis on his childish nature; when they sleep together, he curls up into the fetal position next to her. More than just a murder mystery, Mother’ shows the relentless, unconditional love that a mother has for her child and the lengths to which she will go to protect him. She is a single parent, balancing her work life with looking after Do-joon who is still completely dependent, and her unwavering devotion is representative of a mother’s hard work and love.

‘Mother’ is beautifully shot throughout; the opening scene of the mother dancing in a cornfield is visually stunning. Her dancing goes on just that little bit too long leaving you feeling awkward and not really knowing where to look as she bops around staring straight at the audience, and the scene is typical of the film’s overall humor and poetic feel.

The film constantly puts you in a position where you want to laugh, but do not know whether laughter is appropriate, and Bong strikes a perfect balance between the humor and the dark themes. The ending is poignant and heartbreaking; although in many ways the conclusion is obvious, we almost do not want to think of the possibility, so it still comes as a shock. ‘Mother’ will keep you guessing until the end. Its ambiguity leaves lots of unanswered questions and Bong’s deliberate subversion of conventions makes it satisfyingly fresh.

Review by Natasha HarmerMother South Korea