A murder mystery complicated by the monomaniacal love of a tenacious mother in Bong Joon-ho's stunning masterpiece thriller
While all Director Bong films are a variant on his genre-scrambling master filmmaking, in many ways Mother is the most profoundly Bong of all Bong films.
Mother is deeply dark, but still funny and tender. A perfectly measured narrative, yet baffling surprising. A family drama, a murder mystery and a chilling thriller. Uncategorised by usual genre conventions and all the better for it.
It is a love letter to mother-son relationships. That feeling that no matter what we achieve or do, our mothers will still love us in the end.
However, it is also a cautionary tale of how unconditional love can blind us to reality. How facts blur into untruths when we are intoxicated by a bind of love stronger than actuality can challenge.
A film offering such stark considerations is aided, as you might expect, from Director Bong’s masterful handling of such topics, but also through two lead performances that make the mother-son bond seem real. Won Bin is superb, while Kim Hye-ja produces one of the finest performances in the history of Korean cinema.
Mother opens in mesmerising fashion. On an open field, our ‘Mother’ (Kim Hye-ja) walks towards us, stops and breaks into dance. This will later bookend another dancing scene, one where the mood has shifted.
Remaining unnamed, we know this mother lives as a widow with her only son Yoon Do-joon (Won Bin), an intellectually atypical teenager who worries his mother as she sells medicinal herbs and unlicensed acupuncture treatments in their small town.
While Do-joon is shy, he thrashes into fury when anyone mocks his capabilities while he spends his time with Jin-tae (Jin Goo), a local thug and vagabond.
When a local schoolgirl Moon Ah-jung (Moon Hee-ra) is found dead, witnesses claim they saw Do-joon following her home and he becomes the police’s prime suspect. However, the attention of the detectives infuriates his mother, who bares her teeth trying to prove her son’s innocence.
We associate the mother with the concept of unconditional love, but such boundless love is also a recipe for the range of emotions that Mother lays bare here – grief, anger, revenge, and a seemingly endless list of our strongest fervors.
In many ways, Mother might be Director Bong’s most low-key outing, but it is simultaneously packed with raw emotion, dark tones and genuine thrills. As is often the case with Bong, we lead towards a final act which could fall in any direction. We see no reason to doubt that this Mother will stop at nothing to protect her son, regardless of who may ponder stepping in her way.
Such notions hinge on that Kim Hye-ja performance, which is genuine, thrilling and unsettling. It manages to harness the power of every ‘helicopter parent’ and all child bearers hellbent on placing their child in a protective bubble.
Much is made of Memories of Murder and Parasite, but Director Bong produces one of his most emotionally raw and thrilling films in Mother.