(Repeat viewing, again I didn’t blog at TIFF ’09)
One of my favourite scenes in “Mother” is the abandoned amusement park scene. There’s awesomeness in the closeups of Jin-tae’s boots as he willfully beats the shit out of the horny, gossipy teenage schoolboys . But what I’m here to talk about is when Jin-tae’s best friend’s Mother (Hye-ja Kim) interacts with the same boys. She lights a cigarette and plays good cop to Jin-tae’s bad cop. She asks where the murdered schoolgirl Moon Ah-jung’s cellphone is. The previously fragile mother now looks tougher and sharper than nails, easily she gets the answers she needs.
That’s one of the hurdles that the titular Mother has to go through to prove that her slow-developed son is not the murderer of a girl. She tears up, she bravely ventures to places like the victim’s funeral and a sleazy Karaoke bar, she lies through her teeth. She’s technically a supporting character in her son’s life, their view of each other both Freudian and furious. But we later realize that it’s all about maintaining her world order as much as it is about getting her son out of jail. Hye-ja Kim also fills this character’s highs and lows, giving the best female performances of the past year.
This is the second Joon-ho Bong film I’ve seen (the first one was “The Host”). He explores known terrain/archetypes like schoolgirl innocence, low functioning emasculated men and according to Rick Groen, incompetent government officials, but he twists them in “Mother.” I’m not an expert in South Korean history and culture – cellphone culture and interconnectedness and other Asia-na is assumed as a part of a depiction of the said culture. But this movie’s so character driven anyway that it doesn’t get pigeonholed as a ‘film as national metaphor.’
Almost every frame in this movie is beautiful. From the close-ups to the natural landscapes of a Korean city to the valley-like cemeteries and streets to its attention to water and rain to its willingness to explore darkness. Blue hues are neo-noir’s best friend.
Sure the movie’s a bit slow and even the shocking twists (they’re the best ones in about a decade) don’t give it the punch that “The Host” did, but “Mother” is becoming more enigmatic the more I think of it.