By Lee Hyo-won
"Mother - 2009"
, coming to theaters May 28, had its world premiere at the 62nd Cannes International Film Festival. Variety magazine was not kidding when it said the Bong Joon-ho
film was "unjustly denied a competition berth" in the prestigious French event.
The film is certainly not as edgy as "Memories of Murder
" nor does it have the mainstream appeal of the blockbuster "The Host"
But, featuring South Korea's symbolic Kim Hye-ja
as a mom with a formidable mission and heartthrob Won Bin
in the improbable role of her vulnerable "baby", Bong brings an arresting tale that is at once quintessentially Korean yet universally classic, and uniquely visionary.
Complete with composer Lee Byeong-woo
's film score bearing hints of "trot" (Korean country music) beats and landscapes of rural Korea, Bong constantly surprises the viewer with unexpected outbursts of violence ― Kim offering a most Shakespearean "mad scene" ― and an ironically distanced look into the dark side of blind love, savage innocence and the liberating bliss of oblivion.
Like "Memories of Murder
", the film is set in a small, obscure town where dark secrets lie beneath the apparent calm. Kim plays the namesake figure that desperately tries to make ends meet by selling herbs and giving illicit acupuncture services ― all so that she can support her son Do-jun (Won), who has rather limited mental abilities and is constantly getting into trouble with his street thug buddy Jin-tae (Jin Goo
, the compelling psychopath of "Truck"
, perfects the "Of Mice and Men"-style friendship).
It is easy to assume that the "Mom's Dead Upset
" star plays another devoted mom, but the 67-year-old actress offers something more hardboiled in a story that, as she told reporters in Seoul, Wednesday, is "like a Greek tragedy".
"Mother - 2009"
hints at a mother's perverse fantasy, where a lonesome widow's son never grows up and curls up next to her at night. It is not, however, a Phaedra Complex intrigue like the 1997 thriller "The Hole". Rather, it depicts, perhaps similar to "Seven Days"
, the unconditional affections of a mother that is selfless yet, for non-family, selfish and unsentimental, and even morally compromising.
It also shows how love tends to gravitate downstream, from parent to child, while affection fighting the current, from son to parent, is usually marked by need. In this case, the child needs his mother more than ever. Do-jun is convicted of the shocking murder of a young girl, and the police are happy to quickly wrap up the case, having in possession a golf ball with his name doodled on it, found near the body, and eye witnesses of the lad having been drunk and trying to flirt with the victim that tragic night.
The mother is convinced of her child's innocence. "Of course I didn't do itů The crime went full circle and ended up with me", Do-jun tells her during one of his rare moments of surprising clarity.
The movie draws in viewers with seamlessly crafted thrills with a splash of social criticism in the tradition of "The Chaser"
: The accidental hero ― an average mom replacing the average Joe this time ― sets out to catch the murderer herself without the lazy police and incompetent lawyers. Her instincts suggest that Do-jun's shady friend may be harboring guilt, but things turn out to be much more complex as she delves into the case.
In theaters May 28. 128 minutes. 18 and over. Distributed by CJ Entertainment.