- RatedM18 /GenreDrama
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
(Warning: This review contains spoilers.)
Don’t trust anyone.
That’s a common principle in the psychological thriller. It’s the emotional wedge that divides character from character; it’s the snake in the audience’s sympathy.
In Mother, Bong Joon-ho exploits all the conventions of the genre with a story charged with suggestion and suspense.
But the objective of his visuals is not to undermine trust between audience and character, but rather to foster it. “Be wary of my methods,” he seems to say, “but believe in my characters.”
It’s a tall order, but attainable, due to the sensitivity of the characters, and the honesty of the playing.
Mother opens with a middle-aged woman dancing spiritedly in an open field. The woman’s body is limber, but her face is etched with suffering. The camera rises to create a sensuous image of a human unfettered.
Two cuts later, we meet the middle-aged woman proper. She is Hye-Ja, an unlicensed acupuncturist who lives in a shabby Korean village.
Hye-ja dotes on her son, Do-joon (Won Bin), a savant who, despite his cherubic appearance, is unemployed, semi-retarded and prone to getting into trouble.
One day, a schoolgirl is found murdered, and Do-joon is arrested and charged for the crime. Convinced of her son’s innocence, Hye-ja tracks down a local thug whom she believes to be the real killer.
The thug turns out to be innocent, but rather than walk away outraged or vindicated, he turns to Hye-ja and says, “Don’t trust anyone.” Then, with palpable regret, he adds, “Not even me.”
It’s a penetrating moment that reveals Bong’s sympathies. His characters are all capable of acting with devastating violence; but they are also tormented and, really, quite helpless.
As the film progresses and Hye-ja draws closer to the truth, more sins and secrets among the villagers are excavated – sins and secrets that turn out to be more horrific than the murder itself.
On paper, it’s a recipe guaranteed to alienate an audience. But Bong’s direction makes it amply clear that he empathises with this wretched community, and he urges us to do the same; “Are we so different in our instinct for love, and its attendant darkness?” he seems to ask.
It’s a great humanist impulse, and distinguishes Bong from his more cynical contemporaries, both within and beyond his native South Korea.
Like his last two films, Memories of Murder (2003) and the monster hit The Host (2006), Mother is a genre-bender that keeps you on the edge of your seat while attacking you relentlessly in the heart.
It marks the completion of a remarkable trilogy, and should seal Bong’s reputation as one of the most honest and inventive filmmakers working today.
Ken Kwek is a playwright and screenwriter. His film credits include The Ballad of Vicki and Jake (2005), The Blue Mansion (2009) and the forthcoming Kidnapper (2010).