Mother is a South Korean film that was released in 2009.
The film is set in modern day Korea, and is, of course, in Korean with English subtitles.
However, a major reason that Relative Film Reviews considers this film worth recommending is that apart from the language there is nothing particularly “Korean” about it.
Not that a Korean film about Korean culture would be a turn off. All we mean is that this film could have been set anywhere, and only the language would change. There is no prior knowledge of South Korean culture needed before watching the film. And the subtitles are very easy to follow.
It is simply a very good story.
And it is a story that is told exceptionally well by the director, Joon-ho Bong – who weaves comedy, suspense, and (at times) violence, effortlessly together into a fascinating and unusual mixture.
The film concerns a young man called Yoon Do-joon, who has learning difficulties. He still hangs out with friends and visits bars and other such things, but his mental handicap has left him very naive with something of an adolescents mind.
Yoon Do-joon is, to put it bluntly, a very funny character! His poor memory and childlike innocence make him the most likeable character in the film. And throughout the opening stages he is an easy individual with whom to form a supportive bond.
It is because of his handicap that Yoon Do-joon relies heavily on his mother for support, and although she appears over protective at times, it becomes apparent early on she is the only character in the film her son can completely rely on. Not that he is particularly aware of this.
(His mother’s name is never revealed in the film and so we shall simply refer to her as ‘Mother’).
Mother is set in a small town during Korea’s darkly atmospheric rainy season. A young girl is found murdered, the first of its kind in many years, and it is Yoon Do-joon who is accused of committing the crime. There is only circumstantial evidence linking Do-joon to the crime scene and yet the unprofessional detectives decide he is guilty, and then seemingly trick him into signing a confession. The majority of the story concerns Mother’s private investigation into the murder in an attempt to free her son, whom she is convinced is innocent and has been unjustly framed.
The character of Mother attempts to track down who killed the young girl by taking one lead at a time. And the story revolves nicely around the goings on of the small town, with no “political corruption” or “government conspiracy” extravagance thrown in for the sheer hell of it.
The director prefers to rely on his own skills (music, lighting, sound) to enhance tension through a more contained, local-centred story. One which focuses on a small number of (dare I say realistic?) revelations and twists.
There are no serial killers lurking around corners or gritty macho man detectives standing heroically in the rain. What we have is a seemingly helpless mother on a quest to find justice for her son. Simple, yet compulsively gripping.
The film is funny at times, whilst dark and brooding at others, with the trepidation brought on by the dark and moody rain never feeling forced or overused.
It is a terrific performance by the actor Bin Won – who plays the innocent minded Yoon Do-joon. A performance matched in the film only by the fearful determination on display by Hye-ja Kim, who is excellent as his resolute, yet increasingly frantic mother.
Although due credit must also go to Yoon Do-joon’s friend, Jin-tae, for bringing an exciting tough-guy subplot to the story – even though he is noticeably less dedicated to Yoon Do-joon’s cause.
In order to enjoy this film we would recommend placing your usual (C.S.I. style) expectations for how a crime drama unravels on hold. This is Korea, not Hollywood. Right and wrong is not so clearly defined in the world of the director, Joon-ho Bong.
Viewers expecting to be told who is good, bad, right, or wrong, may come out of the film feeling a little empty. I watched the film with a couple of female viewers who felt just this way.
Although don’t get me wrong, the ending is definitive. The murderer is discovered. And the story is resolved. But the final feeling is neither tragic nor celebratory, it is simply deeply fascinating and thought provoking – and brilliantly revealed every step of the way!
The best way to enjoy this film is to imagine you are at home. And a family friend drops by one rainy/windy evening to tell you a story that happened in a small nearby town. Where a mother took it upon herself to investigate the murder her son was accused of committing.
In this context you would not necessarily expect a nicely contained formula for a ‘crime drama’ (i.e. crime committed – crime investigated – crime solved = happy ending) you would simply sit and listen to the story, and be interested in, and fascinated by what happens next. How far is this mother willing to go to protect her only son?
This is the way to experience Mother.
This is also why we have chosen not to reveal all that much about the story itself. The actions taken, alliances formed, and revelations uncovered by the character of Mother are funny, nerve wracking, and at times violent. But to tell you more now would potentially ruin your experience of watching it.
If you are looking for an entertaining and suspenseful story to grip you from start to finish, then this is certainly one to look at.
Looking for something light and happy before you go to bed? Give it a miss. You’ll end up feeling strangely lost.
One final note: The opening and closing credits may appear a little too “arty” for some viewer’s tastes. They both include some rather random dancing that can go on a bit. If you are not a fan of how these credits unfold, you need not worry. They are the only two instances of their kind in the film, simply marking the beginning and end of the story. (Personally, we thought they were appropriate and interesting additions to the general emotions on display in the film – but you can make your own mind up when you reach the end).