Looking through past posts, I have realised a glaring anomaly. I have tried hard to get at least one film from my favourite Directors included so far, and then last night I realised that I have failed to even mention Bong Joo-ho. One of his movies was always intended for the list since day one (I’ll get there – promise!), but a few nights ago I was privileged to see one of the finest movies I have seen in a long long time.
“Mother” tells the tale of Yoon Do-joon, who although in his late twenties, lives alone with his Mother. The reason for this is that he is mentally retarded, more like a young child, and who has terrible problems with his memory. His mother sells herbs and is also an unlicensed acupuncturist. Basically they are terribly poor, in a pretty deprived suburb of Seoul. Do-joon needs a lot of looking after, and his Mother pretty much dedicates her life to looking after him. One night a local girl is murdered, and circumstantial evidence points to Do-joon being the culprit. The local police are very keen to close the case, but the Mother is desperate to clear her son’s name. She starts to investigate the crime, making some mistakes here and there, but tenaciously uncovers the truth. Unfortunately it may be that some things are best left undiscovered.
The titular Mother is played by Kim Hye-ja – I have never watched her before, but she is a respected TV actress, usually playing a put-upon Mother, so her casting is no mistake, the director is very much playing with his audiences expectation. She totally owns this movie. It is a simply stellar performance. Watch her wonder at the modern world (when exposed to Mobile Phone hacking and Photoshop), watch her steely eyed determination, watch he bravery when she tries to do the right thing. Most of all, watch her as she realises what has really happened, and what price she is going to have to pay.
Won Bin should also get credit for a sympathetic portrayal of the mentally retarded son. I also loved those occasional moments of lucidity – such as when he remembered that his mother tried to kill him some 20 years ago. He is a child in a mans body, not disturbed, but easily led and innocent.
The film is Visually stunning, as you would expect from the film-makers involved. It has a fantastic score (to my mind evoking Hitchcock), and the use of ambient sound is also highly impressive.
I have to admit, the film was not what i expected. I was imagining this to be a much more revenge driven piece, reminiscent of Park Chan-wook’s revenge trilogy. Instead it is much more of a journey, an investigation. Yes there is some violence, even a little sex, but the film does not seem seedy, even if some of the content is quite shocking.
The mood is also lightened with a little humour here and there, which helps the mood, and never seems out of place.
Here’s the trick. There isn’t one. The story is told in a straightforward manner. We don’t see everything, but we allow our prejudices and experiences to colour our judgement. Bong never lies to us, never replays a scene from a different point of view. He just allows the investigation to progress, and when the “twist” comes it is stunning. Everything changes. As an audience member you feel uncomfortable, as you realise you have allowed your own prejudices colour how you have viewed various characters. And when the Mother has to continue down a path after this twist, you still have sympathy for her, for what you know she is going to have to live with.
This is a film about being a mother – about how far would you go to protect your child. What mistakes you are willing to make, what you are able to forgive. And the answer is any mistake, forgive anything, pay any price.
However much it hurts, and however you wish you could forget.