Mother (****1/2) is responsible

Mother – 2009

Director Bong Joon-ho
Screenplay Park Eun-kyo, Bong Joon-ho
Starring Kim Hye-ja, Won Bin, Jin Goo, Moon Hee-ra, Yoon Je-moon, Jeon Mi-seon

Mother (Kim) is a poor, elderly widow who dotes on her son. She sells herbs and does acupuncture on the side. She talks about a meridian on the thigh that helps people be ridden of bad memories. If this were true, she would use it on herself, though. She’s has plenty to excise from her own heart.

Her son, Do-joon (Won) has a developmental challenge that limits his ability to process thoughts normally, This makes him susceptible to many things, and keeps her always working to undo the trouble he gets in with others.

One night Do-joon is on his way home from a bar when he ends up following a girl. The girl hides inside of a building, then throws a rock. Confused as ever, Do-joon runs. The next morning he is taken in for the murder of the girl, with circumstantial evidence. Disbelieving her son is capable, she is horrified to discover the police tricked him into signing a confession.

From here Mother enters a darker path. She is driven to prove her son is innocent, and horrified when her son reveals latent memories about his childhood. The news hits like a tidal wave and her desperation to clear his name reaches a frenetic climax.

Bong is one of the best directors of his time, as evidenced by this year’s Parasite. His form is exceptional here, as he is able to strike every resonant chord of truth and still keep enough of a mystery for the viewer to hope.

If there is one problem that seems recurrent in much of Asian cinema, it’s the penchant to sprinkle in several useful idiots (almost always male). They are somewhere between Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and rodeo clowns. They usually suffer some sort of painful indignity at the hands of smarter, more certain characters. They spill the beans on something, then move out of the story. The presence of such characters kills the atmosphere, bringing it down to the level of a Disney sitcom. Barring this, the film is exceptional in every way.

Kim’s acting is superb throughout. She expresses a humility brought on by a mixture of love, desperation and guilt. She wants her son to succeed in life, maybe even get a girl one day. She understands this will never happen. It’s a fate thrown squarely on her shoulders. She bares it because she has no choice…unless she can hit that meridian.

(****1/2 out of *****)

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