From South Korea, Mother is a stylish and extremely impressive “wrong man” murder mystery. Do-joon (Won Bin) is a sweet natured, mentally handicapped young man who is accused of murder based on circumstantial evidence. Do-joon’s doting mother becomes fixated on finding the real killer to prove her son’s innocence so she starts her own investigation, unveiling all sorts of sordid details about their small town community.
Director Bong Joon-ho’s previous film was the monster movie The Host, which very playfully toyed with its generic conventions without becoming overly self-aware. Mother is more focused than The Host, operating as a strong genre film even though Bong skilfully undermines many of the murder mystery conventions. With its clever play on audience expectations and sympathies there are some completely unexpected twists and turns.
At the heart of Mother is Kim Hye-ja’s lead performance as Do-joon’s mother. Her incredible love and devotion for Do-joon is both touching and sad. Her singular drive to protect him is what drives this film resulting in a heavily ironic and clever examination of guilt and culpability. Beautifully shot and consistently entertaining, Mother is a film that you should not let slip under your radar.
Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 360, 2010
If you haven’t already, also check out his earlier film Memories of Murder, a police procedural that is very similar in style/pacing/quality to Mother.
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