The suspense and anticipation prevailed before the film had even started. What were we to expect from the young Korean director who shot to international fame with monster horror-comedy The Host? Joon-Ho Bong could easily have played to his new-found mass-audience with a more mainstream monster film, or over-played the tongue-in-cheek.
As the lights went down, Mother’s opening sequence set all fears of a tacky blockbuster aside, with a long take of Mother dancing strangely in a field. Not only did this immediately draw us to (and fascinate us with) the weird and wonderful woman who dominates the film; but also revealed the cleverly quirky style that charms throughout.
The first section of the narrative established characters and relationships, particularly Do-Joon as a rebellious twenty-something with issues. He is seen as a ‘retard’ by all whom surround him, apart of course from his Mother, who is obsessed with and consumed by her son. This interplay is both intriguing and funny, but far from our comfort zones (the two share a bed, for example).
One night, after some self-pitied drinking, Do-Joon runs into school-girl Ah-Jung on the way home. This moment is the closest the film comes to horror (enhanced by the brilliantly dark cinematography), and versions of it are repeated throughout. The next morning Ah Jung is found to have been brutally murdered. Do-Hoon is the obvious suspect, and the police immediately imprison him.
Naturally, Mother is driven to avenge him, stopping at nothing to find the real killer. And so we began our journey of twists and turns between distinctive characters- in true mystery style. This comes with thrills throughout, particularly through Mother’s interplay with her suspects. We are thrown into her mindset and share her experiences (when she is hiding in the wardrobe after creeping in to a suspect’s home, we are there with her). Our empathy with her holds the genius of the film, as her actions simultaneously freak us out. Hye Ja Kim’s phenomenal performance only intensifies this.
The awkward moments of revelation during the film’s disturbing second half are arguably the most memorable and chilling, and culminate in the climax.
Unusual, utterly unpredictable yet still fun and accessible, Mother is a triumph for Bong; although those expecting another monster-comedy will be disappointed. It combines the understatement and subtleties of his early work with the light-heartedness of The Host, to a charming end, and leaves exciting space for where he could go next.