Directed by Joon-ho Bong
Released March 12, 2010
There is no one more protective of her young than a mother, but you haven’t seen anything yet until you’ve seen this mother. Her son may not be the brightest bulb in the box, and that only makes her protective instincts stronger. She trained him to fight back if anyone insults his intelligence, and dotes on him in a way that most would consider too close for comfort. He is all she has, and she is not going to let anything happen to him, even if it requires her to take extraordinary measures.
If her son is considered a bit of a quirky character then it’s near impossible to describe his mother. She is first seen dancing to imagined music in the middle of a meadow, and it is clear that she lives in her own world. When her son is arrested for his involvement at a fight, she hurriedly arrives at the police station with small gifts for each of the detectives and officers. They are fully aware of her reputation and it no longer comes as a shock to them. This odd boy and his even odder mother are well known in the community, but unfortunately for them, they are not terribly well-liked, prompting even more motherly action from this immutable matriarch.
What starts out as an entertaining if somewhat startling comedy quickly morphs into a serious thriller when the mother’s son, Yoon Do-joon, is jailed for a gruesome murder with no hope of a proper defense. The mother takes it upon herself to clear his name, and if she is unable to fully prove his innocence, she will still do her best to find anyone and everyone that knows something important. The same cast and characters are featured in the second half of the film but the genre and tone have been radically transformed. Both parts work equally well, and it is stunning to see such a subtle change that ends up being so intriguing and effective.
It should not come as a surprise that this hybrid of a film is what it is considering its director, Joon-ho Bong, who made the highly acclaimed film “The Host” several years ago. This is a story that strongly emphasizes its local and national culture, and it is extraordinarily interesting to see the kind of films that the Korean cinema industry is producing. Equally staggering and remarkable are the performances contained in this film. The portrayal of the Yoon Do-joon by Bin Won sets up the framework of the film and positions him perfectly in the story. But it’s the performance of Hye-ja Kim as the mother that really ties the film together. She throws herself completely into the role and presents a woman so fiercely loyal to her offspring whose dedication other proud mothers might yearn to mimic, albeit in a less eccentric and crazed manner. After all, the film is about one mother in particular, but the title doesn’t contain her real name. It may be a stretch to say that this film is a cinematic realization of the maternal instinct, but if any film could be classified that way, this would be it.
Please note: a version of this review was originally published in the Washington Square News.
Saturday, March 13, 2010