From director Jooh-ho Bong, the director of the fantastic monster movie ‘The Host’ comes something a little different with his follow up film ‘Mother’. A little different but not too terribly different from each other if you think about it a little bit. Sure one’s a movie about a sewer dwelling monster and the other centers around an overprotective mother, but both of these characters do some really bad things in both of these movies, with both of these characters simply doing these things because it is in their nature to do so.
Do-joon (Bin Won) is slow, an idiot, stupid. There’s not a lot to debate about that. Just don’t call him retarded. Please. We first meet Do-joon getting clipped by a speeding Mercedes which causes his good friend Jin-tae (Ku-jin) to mobilize his easily manipulated friend to track down this wayward Mercedes and vandalize it. This simple event of lunacy by these two nutjobs will set in motion a series of unfortunate events which will end with Do-joon being arrested as the prime suspect in the murder of a Korean schoolgirl who we are told is of loose moral structure.
Do-Joon’s Mother (Hye-ja Kim) knows her baby boy isn’t very bright, has trouble remembering things and has a short temper at times but she also knows that he’s no murderer. The evidence pointing towards Do-joon is circumstantial, but it is fairly solid circumstantial evidence so unless Mother can find how who really murdered this girl her boy is going away for a while. What is a concerned mother to do?
This is where ‘Mother’ becomes something else altogether. First mom hires a lawyer, the best lawyer money can buy even though she’s flat broke. We gotta say we have noticed that despite the fact Mother does seem to be next to poverty stricken, when she needs money she always comes up with money. This lawyer is no good by the way, despite the fact he brokered what I thought was a reasonable plea agreement, so now Mother is in full Columbo mode as she decides to crack the case herself. Jin-tae seems the obvious suspect since he does take advantage of the dim-witted Do-joon to fit whatever agenda he has going on at that time. Eventually Mother realizes that the
only person who can help her find this killer is the victim herself which leads her to focusing all of her energies on what this girl was into, who would want to kill her (a few people as it turns out) and what clues can she get out of people, including her slow witted son with the terrible memory, to finally set this young man free and bring the real killer to justice… whoever this killer might be.
With ‘Mother’ Joon-ho Bong has crafted a rather unique tale that sets the majority of its plot within the pathology of its main character, brilliantly played out by Hye-ja Kim, as opposed to the actual plot of the mystery of this murdered girl. Even though this murdered girl is the lynch pin of the entire narrative in this movie, this part of the story is pushed to the periphery by watching Mother operate, learning more about Mother and her relationship with her son, a relationship that is mighty uncomfortable at times and learning why Mother is going to such lengths to protect her son. All mothers protect their children, this mother just takes it to another level. Another reason the mystery of this murdered girl is pushed to the back, at least in my opinion, is because the director deals from the bottom of the deck a couple times in dealing with this mystery.
There are a couple of contrivances within the plot that occur, not because it developed in an organic way, but because the story needed to head to a certain point and we had to be re-routed to these plot points. The screenwriters knew where we had to be, but on a couple of occasions they couldn’t devise a clever enough way to get their audience to these desired destinations.
Fortunately for us ‘Mother’ is a movie that is character driven. Even though he’s only made two feature films I’m more than prepared to anoint Joon-ho Bong a master of bringing out the most of the characters, as he has clearly shown in the movies of his I’ve seen. Bin Won has created a character in Do-joon that truly only a mother could love because none of his afflictions or inadequacies are in the least bit endearing. This works in this movie because it makes the character of Mother a stronger figure because it’s easy to support a character who trying to protect a kid who is cute and cuddly and adorable. With this Mother, it’s all about her unnatural attachment to this grown man and this makes their relationship all the more unnerving. Ku-jin’s character of Jin-tae brought a cool menace to his character with Hye-su Kim creating one of the more unique characters in my recent movie memory with Mother.
‘Mother’ is a film that is a phenomenal character study bracketed by a flawed mystery but it still an achievement by a director, who at least at this point, seems destined for great things.