Published Mar 25, 2010Early on in Mother, Joon-Ho Bong's follow-up to the Korean environmental creature feature hit The Host, the titular mommy (Hye-ja Kim) chases her mentally challenged son, Yoon Do-joon (Bin Won), out of the house with a bowl of soup. Upon discovering him urinating in the street, she takes a good long look at his penis and proceeds to pour the soup in his mouth while we see the urine run down the street, a scene akin to the charming moment in Ken Park where Wade Williams (Bellick from Prison Break) simultaneously pees and drinks a beer.
While certainly grotesque, giving us the sense that their relationship is not entirely on the up-and-up, it presents the boy's dangerous simplicity and his mother's outrageous loyalty with both bizarre understanding and scorn. This juxtaposition of outlandish exaggeration and grounded intensity fuels Bong's Twin Peaks-style mystery, not distracting, but demonstrating a mastery of tone and form.
This is why the central premise of the film, which involves mom trying to prove her son innocent after he's convicted of murdering a teenage girl, holds more fervour and detached analysis than a regular follow-the-clues sleuthing spectacle. Revelations from the past hold as much influence as the depravity of the town's present underbelly, wherein prostitutes are paid with rice and people feel no remorse following hit and runs.
Along with a peculiar, seedy narrative that carefully refrains from exploitation, this Korean import delves into themes of maternal guilt and admiration, wilful ignorance and romantic transference. It does so with a vein of melodrama and whimsy, but judges as readily as it empathizes, giving a cultural context while this determined mom confronts angry townsfolk and potentially dangerous indigent people in the hopes of freeing her son.
Because of its deliberately shifting tone and self-conscious eye, engaging beyond curious scrutiny is a near impossibility, but there is no denying that Mother is a smart and uniquely compelling movie. (Mongrel Media)