Santa Cruz Good Times

Nov 28th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size


FILM_Mother1Unstoppable 'Mother' fights for son in acute Korean mystery thriller

Don't go to the movies of South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho expecting the ordinary. While tales of maternal devotion have been a staple of human drama (and cinema) from Ma Joad to Stella Dallas to Lily Potter, what Bong brings to the mother-love genre in his absorbing thriller, Mother, is a virtuoso mix of dynamic action, precisely rendered emotions, and a complex worldview that both satirizes and mourns the junk and clutter, opportunism and corruption of modern daily life.

Bong is best known stateside for revitalizing the toxic monster movie genre in the 2007 thrill ride, The Host. He brings a somewhat more poetic (but no less kinetic) sensibility to Mother, a survivor’s tale that's part Asian-noir mystery, and part heroine's journey. The title character, who has no other name (everyone in the film just calls her "Mom") is played with extraordinary grace, grit and fortitude by the wonderful Korean actress Kim Hye-ja; she is both the center of the story and the vital heart of the film.

A longtime single parent, this mother makes a very modest living dabbling in herbal remedies and acupuncture (without a license) in a small village on the outskirts of Seoul. The center of her life is her only child, twentysomething son Do-joon, whose pretty face masks the impaired brain of a slow-reasoning child (a stoic, affecting performance by Won Bin). Do-joon is old enough to be led into trouble by his shiftless, "bad seed" buddy, Jin-tae (Ku Jin), and stay out late drinking. He often complains about his mom's smothering attention, but he's still boy enough to crawl onto her bed and sleep beside her at night.

But the precarious truce mother and son have forged with the uncertainties of life is thrown into chaos when the police arrest Do-joon for murder. The body of a high school girl, still in her school uniform, is found draped over a stone railing overlooking the town in a neighborhood where Do-joon was seen drinking the night before. Everyone in town (including the young police chief) has known Do-joon all his life, and no one considers him violent or dangerous, but circumstantial evidence and proximity, coupled with Do-joon's frequent memory lapses, render the case closed.

Needless to say, that's not good enough for Mom. Suspecting a set-up and determined to find the real killer, she launches her own DIY investigation, sneaking into private homes to steal or barter for evidence and information, chatting up teenagers, relatives, and possible suspects, enduring humiliation, abuse, and even extortion. Incriminating cell phone pictures, high-tech digital imaging, a girl tech wizard, a pair of teenage party boys, a cantankerous grandma addicted to rice wine, and an elderly junkman all figure in the case. (As does a slick but useless shyster lawyer. The surreal scene where he delivers his callous opinion of Do-joon's probable fate while surrounded by stoned hookers and their stuporous elderly clients is straight out of a David Lynch movie.) Along the way, as she unearths bitter truths about the victim, the murder, the world in general, and herself, the intrepid mother becomes a diminutive Rambo (Mombo?) determined to save her son at all costs.

Bong assembles it all with sly humor, gentle heartbreak, and a couple of yowza moments that will leave viewers reeling. Nothing in the scenario plays out exactly as one might expect, and as the plot unspools, Bong adds subtle layers of thematic dimension, pondering everything from the sting of memory (and the allure of forgetfulness) to a mother's moral imperative to fight for her child.

Indeed, conventional notions of morality are better left to more conventional storytellers. A master of mood, composition, shocking encounters, and tiny revelations that wound like a blade, Bong is carving out a different path as a stylist of the human psyche.


With Kim Hye-ja and Won Bin. Written by Park Eun-kyo, Park Wun-kyo, and Bong Joon-ho. Directed by Bong Joon-ho. A Magnolia release. Rated R. 129 minutes. In Korean with English subtitles.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger


Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share


Santa Cruz Gives

A look at the organizations we’re asking you to support in our new holiday giving campaign


Gratitude—For Each New Morning With its Light

The full moon of Wednesday brings light to Thanksgiving (Thursday) under the Sagittarius Sun and Mercury. Mercury in Sag offers humanity the message (Mercury) of thankfulness and joy (Jupiter). No other sign represents food, music and joy better than Sagittarius (only Pisces, when not in despair). Beginning on Thanksgiving, we can list what we’re grateful for. Then we can continue the list, creating a daily Gratitude Journal. What we are grateful for always increases in our lives. On Thanksgiving Saturn/Neptune square (challenging) is in full effect. This can manifest as traditions not being honored, disappearing, falling away. It can also create a sense of sadness, confusion, of things not working out as planned. It’s best to be as simple as possible. And to focus on gratitude instead. Gratitude is a service to others. It is scientifically and occultly a releasing agent. Releasing us from the past, allowing our future—the new culture and civilization, the new Aquarian laws and principles, the rising light of Aquarius, the Age of Friendship and Equality—to come forth. Gratitude and goodwill create the “thought-form of solution for humanity and the world’s problems.” The hierarchy lays great emphasis upon expressing gratitude. Gratitude illuminates all that is in darkness. Let us be grateful during this season together. Being, for others, the light that illuminates the darkness. A Poem by R.W. Emerson: We are grateful … “For each new morning with its light/For rest and shelter of the night/For health and food/For love and friends/For everything thy goodness sends.” (poem by R.W. Emerson). I am grateful for my family of readers.


The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program


Pluck of the Irish

Mid-century immigrant tale engagingly told in ‘Brooklyn’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments


Second Street Café

Pies and tarts for all tastes—from traditional to adventurous


How are you preparing for El Niño?

Getting ready to buy some rain gear. Cory Pickering, Santa Cruz, Teaching Assistant


Fortino Winery

Cabernet and superb fruit wine from Fortino Winery


Tap Dance

West End Tap & Kitchen’s impressive menu to expand to Eastside location