Review: Mother (2009)

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Bong Joon-Ho is one of my favourite directors, and in my opinion, one of the world’s best directors working today. His works so far have covered a wide variety of different genres, ranging from the quirky social satire Barking Dogs Never Bite, to the memorable murder mystery Memories of Murder, to the monster masterpiece The Host. What impresses me the most about this director is his ability to tell stories, regardless of their genres, so incredibly well. After directing just a handful of films, he has proven himself as a director with the rare gift of being able to move from one genre to another with remarkable ease. His latest film, Mother, once again demonstrates what an intelligent and masterful filmmaker he is.

In a small town lives Do-Joon (Won Bin), an intellectually disabled young man, and his mother (Kim Hye-Ja). One night, while Do-Joon is waiting for his friend Jin-Tae to join him at the pub, he gets drunk before Jin-Tae even arrives. He soon starts to follow a young girl on her way home, and little does he realise what kind of trouble he is leading himself into. While the girl’s dead body is found the next day, with something belonging to Do-Joon right next to her body, he becomes the prime suspect…

Mother is an effective and suspenseful thriller, helped by confident direction, wonderful performances, skilful lighting and beautiful cinematography. From the moment the dead body is found, viewers are taken on a dark and at times shocking journey with Do-Joon’s mother in her seemingly endless quest to find the killer. Very soon it becomes obvious she will stop at nothing to find that killer, and is truly prepared to do anything to prove her son’s innocence. And just like Bong’s previous films, he has again thrown in an element of social commentary into this morally ambiguous tale, in particular in the depictions of how academics behave and how police officers go about carrying out their duties.

The performances are terrific all round. As the title suggests, the focus of the film lies in the mother figure of the film, played brilliantly by Kim Hye-Ja. The character is certainly flawed, but Kim gives a compelling performance and literally holds the movie together. It is not an easy role to play, as the character is not particularly likeable, and some of the actions she takes are way too extreme. Actor Won Bin plays her intellectually disabled son, and proves himself as a capable actor and not just one with a pretty face. Besides Kim and Won, another actor who gives a great performance in Mother is Jin Ku, playing Do-Joon’s ‘best’ (and probably only) friend Jin-Tae, another complex character who plays an important role in the story.

Mother is a fine film that offers edge-of-the-seat entertainment and thought-provoking drama. While perhaps not as mesmerising as Bong Joon-Ho’s best works, Memories of Murder and The Host, it is still a great addition to his filmography. Bong has certainly established himself as a truly amazing director after directing only four feature films, all in the past decade. I would like to conclude this review by making a prediction right here: Bong Joon-Ho will both commercially and critically dominate the Korean cinema world during this decade. But for now, do check out his films if you have not seen them all already.

8.5 acupuncture needles being illegally applied out of 10.
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