Joon-ho Bong's "Mother" is a film that intrigued me ever since it became Korea's submission to the Oscars last year and its exciting trailer started circulating the blogosphere. Then, I watched (and heartily enjoyed) Bong's prior, more famous film "The Host". Enjoying that film so much made me extremely interested in seeing what he would do with such an interesting and actressy concept. Being matched up with it for the Film Community Potluck at Anomalous Material finally gave me the incentive to watch it and I was not disappointed.
Hye-ja Kim plays the titular character, an elderly woman who loves and lives alone with her son, Do-joon (Bin Won). She is completely devoted to Do-joon, and her entire world (which is pretty much solely based on her role as his mother) is completely torn apart when he is convicted of the murder of a young girl in their small village. Convinced of his innocence, she begins her own rogue investigation of the crime. But not everything is as it seems and soon the story grows more and more twisted.
"Mother" is really a masterfully written spin on the age old plot device that is being wrongly accused of a crime. As each layer of the story stacks up perfectly the audience is left in awe and suspense, all with beautifully rounded characters. Bong avoids the problems that I feel he encountered in "The Host" - "Mother" is much more focused (though it does admittedly drag a bit in the second act) and the humor is executed flawlessly, not awkwardly.
Speaking of execution, "Mother" is a stylistic masterwork. Bong's direction is sharp and tense, and with very little score he is able to make single shots excruciatingly suspenseful. The film is also beautifully shot - the cinematography is often breathtaking. The opening and closing shots in are particularly memorable in their beauty and motivic significance.
Of course, the most stunning achievement of this film is Hye-ja Kim's performance. She truly is a tour-de-force. Her love for her son is unbelievably strong, almost to an unhealthy level that Kim is absolutely not afraid to explore. One word that kept coming to mind in regards to her work is "operatic". The fearless, unhinged and raw emotion so often seen in opera is rarely found in film (simply due to the differences in the mediums), yet Kim's work is nothing short of operatic, and it's breathtaking to watch her.
Joon-ho bong has truly created a classic to be in the crime genre. Though it may not be a perfect film, it is crafted so skillfully that it is impossible to ignore. Hye-ja Kim's performance alone can simply not be praised enough - it is unique and brilliant. I absolutely recommend "Mother"...don't wait like I did, watch it ASAP!