Cultural Bulletin
Exploring Film, Music, Design, Art and the Wider Cultural Themes that Surround Them

REVISITING: Mother

Director: Bong Joon-Ho

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It’s been 10 years since Bong Joon-ho (The HostOkja) gave us this darkly thrilling story of a mother’s devotion to her son. The South Korean crime drama also has Kim Hye-ja’s wonderfully dynamic performance in the central role - it is the first of many reasons that it is so worth re-watching. As co-writer and director, Joon-ho has a fascinating ability to surprise, with sharp injections of humour and characters that often make unexpected emotional leaps, leaving us guessing throughout.

The mother in question is a widow in a small town in southern South Korea, a modest herbalist and unlicensed acupuncturist, attempting to make a living and to keep her son Yoon Do-joon (a brilliant Won Bin) from running into trouble. His intellectual disabilities mean he requires help from others, and his mother takes responsibility (whether he likes it or not) as his protector.  However, when the murder of a teenage girl rocks the town, he becomes the centre of an investigation as the detectives find it surprisingly easy to get him to confess to the crime. Certain he is not capable of such a thing, the mother begins her journey of exonerating her son, uncovering disturbing truths along the way. 

The relationship between mother and son becomes more curious as she turns from protective guardian to fervent detective. Everyone is a suspect, as to her no one could be less guilty than her son. She enlists the help of her sons only friend Jin-tae (Jin Goo, patient yet dangerous), a local rogue not unused to rescuing Do-joon from those who take advantage of him. 

There are some epic shots, and when the music kicks in the film possesses a real sense of grandeur. The brilliant acting from all is led by Kim Hye-ja. She inhabits the role with an undercurrent of maternal desperation, often presenting as a ferocity that is disconcerting and at times terrifying. As mother and friend work together through the twists and turns of their own investigation the film picks up pace and we are led to a denouement that shows the shockingly dark depths this mother will go to in order to protect her child. SC