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'Mother - 2009' : A Must See

2009/10/12 Source

Howard Shumann rates "Mother - 2009" by Bong Joon-ho an A. Editor's Note

After a night of drinking, Do Joon (Won Bin), an intellectually-challenged young man, encouraged by his reckless buddy Jin-tae (Jin Goo), attempts to pick up a young high school girl Ah-jung walking home alone. Shockingly, the next day, Do Joon is arrested for the girl's murder as his mother looks on helplessly. Seen at the Vancouver Film Festival, Bong Joon-ho's Mother is an intelligent, suspenseful, and darkly comic revelation of the lengths to which an overbearing but deeply loving mother will go to pursue justice for her son who, she believes, has been wrongly convicted of murder.

Though there is an evocative score by Lee Byeong-woo, the film's use of ambient sounds such as the slashing of a herb chopper and the rustling of leaves add to an ominous mood, though it often clashes with the absurdist events seen on screen. Set in a small Korean town, the elderly mother, played by Korean TV star Kim Hye-ja in one of the most nuanced and emotive performances of the year, makes a living by selling herbal medicine and providing illegal acupuncture treatments. Convinced of her son's innocence, she will stop at nothing, even violence, to find the real killer. She learns details about the dead girl's personal life and talks to alternative suspects, even though even she is not fully prepared for the twists and turns that her investigation will take.

The film opens with a shot of a lone elderly woman walking in a vast expanse of open field, reminiscent of the opening shot in Shunji Iwai's "All About Lily Chou Chou". As she approaches the camera, the background music becomes rhythmic and the woman begins a strange, almost provocative dance. The scene then shifts to her business where she is keeping a close eye on her 27-year-old son Do-Joon who she feels needs her constant protection. Playing in the street with a dog, the boy is knocked over by a speeding hit and run driver in a Mercedes-Benz.

Uninjured, Do-Joon and Jin-tae chase the car to a golf course where the two attack the drivers of the Benz with sticks while collecting numerous golf balls, later to be used in evidence in court. On the fateful night, after Do-Joon is thrown out of a bar for being drunk, he pursues Ah-Jung home and the next day is arrested for murder, although details of what happened are murky.

Bong shows the police procedural as in "Memories of Murder" to be on the lackadaisical side and conveys the impression that everyone involved is only out for their self-interest, including police, lawyers, friends, junk dealers, and schoolgirls.

Reminiscent of the quirky, offbeat films of Alfred Hitchcock, "Mother - 2009" is an intense, witty, and engaging psychological thriller with enigmatic characters that do not just populate the screen but are vitally alive.

In one outstanding scene that will etch itself forever in your memory, Hye-ja attends the funeral of the girl her son is alleged to have murdered. Although besieged by distraught family members who think her son is a murderer, she has the fortitude to look them in the eye and proclaim "my son could never do something like that". Although "barking dogs don't bite", this woman is one "mutha" of an exception.

Howard Schumann

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