Keswick Film Club - Reviews - Mother

Reviews - Mother

Mother

Reviewed By John Stakes

Mother
Mother
Hard on the heels of last week’s Hitchcock inspired movie comes another. The Master’s influence is still undiminished and global. Last Sunday South Korean writer-director Joon-Ho Bong’s 2009 4th Asian Film Awards winner “Mother” was screened in Keswick to a large and appreciative audience. Expectation was high as this film beat the brilliant “City of Life and Death” screened earlier this season to win the coveted “best film” accolade and its director was responsible for the highest ever
grossing Korean film “The Host”.

Hye-ja Kim plays the title role of an un-named woman of limited means who cares for her 27 years old attractive but mentally impaired son Do-joon (Bin Wong) who, much to his mother’s chagrin, hangs around a bit too much with the local ne’er do well Jin-tae. There is no sign or mention of the young man’s father who is presumed to have left home through disappointment over his son’s impairment. Do-joon is arrested following the death of a local high school girl whose body is found on a rooftop the morning after Do-joon has briefly spoken with and afterwards followed her the previous night. Do-joon’s defence lawyer is unreliable. The police are inept and corrupt resulting in Do-joon signing a confession to the girl’s murder against a background of flimsy circumstantial evidence.

Much of the early part of the film devotes itself to a side-plot involving Jin-tae and Do-joon as they exact revenge on a hit and run driver. These scenes are played out in a somewhat comedic fashion which is at odds with the style and emotion of the main plot but never to the point of distraction. They serve to flag up the awkward relationship which Do-joon has with his peers, the gap between South Korea’s rich and poor and to bring into the plot a golfball which serves as a piece of evidence against Do-joon. At the point when Do-joon appears about to become a victim of an inadequate Korean justice system, his mother’s unbridled love for her son propels her into action as a lioness would protect her cub and she becomes resolute in her determination to find the true killer.

Mother scours the town looking for clues to clear her son. She uncovers some salacious details about the girl with Jin-tae as an unlikely ally. She is tenacity personified as she closes in on the truth but nothing could prepare her for the moment when the killer (her own son) is revealed to her by a junk man. The manner in which she resolves her dilemma was powerfully shocking but entirely understandable in this context.

Joon-Ho Bong’s film mirrored the Club’s recent screening of the hugely successful Argentine film “The Secret in Their Eyes” which was also heavily plot-constructed and reflected inadequacies in the country’s justice system. But Joon-Ho Bong’s film was an object lesson in this genre and infinitely superior. Why? Because it was a near perfect blend of a thoroughly plausible plot and character each serving the other.

Long before the film approached its climax Joon-Ho Bong’s clever construction beautifully wrong-footed the audience (well at least this reviewer!) so that every turn was completely in keeping with the characters involved whilst satisfyingly surprising. For example you could feel mother’s resigned dread as the police came to her home, seemingly at first to arrest her, the surprise of them not doing so being sustained until after she’d been put in the car. The look on mother’s face when she became aware that the young man (also mentally impaired) who was now to be charged with the girl’s murder in place of her own son was an orphan and therefore had no mother to help clear his name was agonising…..and all the more so because she knew he was innocent.

This director clearly loved all things Hitchcockian! “A man’s best friend is his mother” applied equally to Do-joon as it had to Norman Bates. The Master would have been proud of the tension-building scenes (e.g. when mother tried to get out of the rubbish strewn room where the young couple were sleeping) and the climactic murder of the junk man, each of which being accompanied by some very deft camerawork. The music captured both the mood of each scene and the darkening tone of the story.

Hye-ja Kim richly deserved her best actress award at the same festival for her performance here. She displayed mother’s full range of emotions simply and naturally without elaboration so we could feel for her every step of the way. Bin Wong’s Do-joon was utterly convincing particularly in his ability to persuade us that his character’s physical and emotional needs were as acute as those of anyone else. They both graphically conveyed the shortcomings of their personal relationship despite mother’s best efforts which went far beyond the call of duty and love.

No masterpiece perhaps but a great film nevertheless from a master craftsman. This is only the fourth film from Joon-Ho Bong but his future is looking extremely promising.

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19th Keswick Film Festival

22nd-25th February 2018


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