Thoughts on Mother

Thursday, August 19, 2010 8:48 PM By Simon

-An unnamed woman (Kim Hye-ja), selling grain and illegal acupuncture in a small South Korean town, finds herself a makeshift detective when her mentally handicapped son Do-joon (Won Bin) is accused of murdering a high school girl.

-Kim Hye-ja is so unbelievably amazing. As a meek, doting woman with a fierce, almost unhealthy, love for her son, she has so much going on with her face alone. Superficially, it's somewhere between mild, desperate, and determined, as she gets deeper and deeper into the circumstances surrounding the girl's death, but there's a madness that director Bong Joon-ho zeroes in on, often lingering on her face as she interrogates a suspect or searches through a room, especially when she talks to her son in prison. As said son, Won Bin, who Wikipedia tells me is very famous in South Korea and Japan as a heartthrob, is (I hate this word, okay, but) superb, this very innocent guy with a hair-trigger temper, not nearly as naive as he comes off, yet completely dependent on the tolerance of strangers and the devotion of his mother, well-meaning and hapless and unsure if he's even done the things he's accused of.

-Fine supporting turn by Jin Goo as Jin-tae, Do-joon's ne'er-do-well friend who allies with the Mother to clear his name. There's also the actress who played the murdered girl, shown in flashback and bizarre reenactments, but IMDb is being a bitch about the name of said actress. So there's that.

-Bong Joon-ho keeps you disoriented from the first shot on, always in control even whe nthe plot isn't. His sense of mise-en-scene (shut up, I like that phrase) is impeccable, keeping the tone balancing precariously between humor and suspense, as the plot itself ponders over what is right and wrong, never judgemental. Some scenes are absolutely brilliant, from editing to staging to score (one I particularly like is about a twist, so, y'know).

-I love how it opens and ends with the Mother dancing. In the beginning, it's in a field of grass, her dancing tiredly and almost lazily to lovely music, waving her arms and frequently wiping her face in the mist of it, face switching from bright and delighted to unreadably emotionless, a scene that's put into horrifying context later on. In the end, she's on a bus, I won't say why, but it's so bittersweet and oddly triumphant, her exuberantly dancing among other old folk, getting lost in the tiny crowd and the glaring sunlight as the credits roll.

-I love the way Bong frames the more idiosyncratic characters of the story, the castaways of society. I can't put my finger on it...

-How he does the more suffocating moments of tension, while the Mother is caught in the room of a suspect while he and his girlfriend have sex, for example, are the best moments.

-I didn't get the end. Okay.


Alex said...

This movie. Is so. GOOD. Bong Joon-ho is proving himself incapable of making a bad movie, and they just keep getting better as he goes on. Glad you liked it!

August 19, 2010 at 10:37 PM
Marc Edward Heuck said...

I'm not sure what part you didn't get at the end, but I'll give it a try to explain...


When she faces the double whammy that a) her son did commit the murder; and b) unlike him, the man in custody will not have any family to fight for him and try to clear his name, she is overwhelmed with guilt that she is allowing an innocent man to go to jail for life, on top of all the other guilt she is carrying for a lifetime of erratic behavior that has scarred her son, likely to the point where he could commit such a crime.

So on the "mother's holiday," she figures out from her knowledge of acupuncture that by piercing a certain region, she could effectively erase her memory, or at least her guilt, which allows her to start dancing with abandon on the bus (and, during the sequence that opens the movie - if you notice, her clothes are the same)

If this isn't the detail, feel free to correct me.

I love this movie, one of my favorites this year.

August 20, 2010 at 4:59 AM
Castor said...

Really looking forward to this especially due to your raving comments about it. It's at the top of my netflix queue and I'm waiting for it!

August 20, 2010 at 7:03 AM
Simon said...

Alex: Bong is so awesome, I don't even care people get all giggly when I say his name.

Marc: I understand that, her guilt, but I didn't understand what her intent was when she *SPOILERS, YO* stuck the needle in. Was she trying to erase her memory of 'all bad things', meaning the things she and her son have done, or her son in general, at least before the poisoning?

Anyway, I thought she wore the same clothes because she had a limited wardrobe, you know, I think she'd do better than to wear the same clothes she did when she was at the shack.

Castor: Dude. Yes. It's on Instant, if you don't want to wait.

August 21, 2010 at 1:22 AM
Marc Edward Heuck said...

What she wants to forget or how much I guess is up for the viewer.

See if you can get a hold of MEMORIES OF MURDER, Bong's earlier film. It's a knockout too.

August 21, 2010 at 3:21 AM
Anonymous said...

I second the fierceness of Kim Hye-Ja, especially when she's turning the volume down while talking to strangers. I wanna see her in another movie like, now.

August 21, 2010 at 4:28 PM
Robert said...

OMG I totes just read this and realized that I mentioned a lot of the same things as you. I promise it wasn't plagiarism. It's just that the stuff is SO good, like the opening and closing shots, and obviously, Kim is SOOOO AMAZING OMG YESSSSSS

Anyway, I'm glad we're on the same page with this one ;)

October 17, 2010 at 1:49 PM