Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Review: Mother

This film is a delectable delight of an adorable fancy and almost, whimsically dramedic--if I may merge two words--at times.
Balancing flights of mustily dark comedy, police procedural and (at times suspenseful) family drama, Mother is certainly more than the title suggests.

Even the open sequence alone is enough to rope us in tightly with it's capricious nature, and, avant-garde approach almost, dancing along in front of our eyes. We need to find out more about this woman, her story and this film.

Only the director of the painfully lovely The Host could have made a film from the exact script I saw played out before my eyes. Maybe even South Korea in general could produce something like this, although you could argue that with some others I'm thinking of now. But still, you can't replace the swag that South Korean film has developed and can bring to the camera. Their customs, energy, fresh approaches, locales and over atmosphere. Another film which, well, pretty much fits exactly the description in the above paragraph, with another label I'll reserve for it's best kept a secret as much as it can be.

Coming off the good steam of that, and being able to repeat himself in a similar genre, Joon-ho has moved himself to another, more familiar one, calling on his Memories of Murder instincts. Another great one for him about cops, killers, questions and whodunit's.

I'll say this, I watched Won Bin play the total opposite of a helpless idiot in The Man From Nowhere to great effect. So seeing him as Do-Joon for the first time, playing with a dog and making it stand on it's hind legs and dance for his mother across the street, you get the sense the Won Bin, is well suited to play a man of low and very questionable intelligence. I'm not exactly sure that's a compliment, but his conviction at collecting golf balls as romantic trinkets for girls had me cold believing him. Not quite the Dicaprio standard, but it worked just fine. This is two in a row now, where a main character is played to be, of questionable intelligence, along with the The Host as we get here.

His mother, played by Korean Acting vet Kim Hye-ja loves her son to the millionth degree. Every stare and every glace she give to him is packed with ferocious feelings of adulation. We get the sense he's a twenty-something, not doing much with his days, and at night, he even crawls into her bed at times. She sells herbs, roots and holistic medicine by day, and secretly on the side gives out acupuncture, her employer does not like it, but the money is needed, and she believes in what she does.

Mother, is quite simply about the titular character and her search for the real killer of a local girl, while her son is held on a sentence based on circumstantial evidence alone. And her son, Do-Joon, doesn't help himself much, being the town simpleton, he barely understands, or even cares that he's locked up and pretty much serving 15 hard years in prison. The police he see this as open and shut (after a neat trick with an apple) by a fingerprint at the crime scene alone, and they manage to grab a swift confession out of him. In a quick scene, mother says to son:
"Did you kill her?"
"Are you crazy, of course not."
"Then why did you sign it idiot!"
"Don't call your son an idiot!" 
Well, at least you're right side of that ol' DMZ border huh Do-Joon?

After that we get scenes of her quite literally scowering the town in order to prove her son's innocence. She questions and detains and pays and cries and panics. Ever vigilant and never tiring, Mother powers through placated police, dumb lawyers and unruly townsfolk on the search for truth.

It comes across our mind that there is a chance the real killer, who simply murdered the girl and has skipped out of the small town, might never be caught, and Do-Joon is set for his sentence to serve it out in full. But surely that can't be it? Is that the end game of the film? He rots and the mother cries and grows old(er) alone? Will I say? "Are you crazy? Of course not." I won't say, the end is too precious to spoil.

I'll say this, when we get to the end, we don't expect that kind of result, but we simply cannot argue with it's logic either. And there is something to be said about the sheer honesty of sticking to the congruent and harmonious outcome of a story, versus a mere payoff that the director heroically ditched. Which I of course loved. And I'll say that: I just plum loved this film. Loved it. And much is owed to the unyielding, relentlessness and going-for-broke performance from Kim Hye-ja. And the last scene for her character in the film isn't where we'd find think we'd find her either. Or more to the point, do we really think at that point in the film anything is going to happen that's anywhere near traditional? Of course not.

This is film most certainly not a comedy, but it has its moments that are more obvious. When Kim lights up a cigarette, or almost any conversation between her and Do-Joon, or when Do-Joon does just about anything, the way the townies look at her bumbling around trying to help her dumb son, or the way he's never called "retard" in itself, he's always a "dumb" one, or a "stupid" one. We later find out his mother instructed him years ago to defend in only one specific manner to this name calling.

I wonder, though how this would play as an American remake? I won't say it'd be worse, but I'll say there is simply something charming and naturally delightful for my experiences watching South Korean film. They certainly know how to pump out country-pleasers with little creative compromise. As an audience member, I'm always thankful for that.

Generalizing the film, think about the pitch to watch the film for a night in with popcorn, "Oh dude, it's South Korean and subtitled. It's about this old lady who walks around town trying to free her innocent son on a murder charge. It's mostly her just asking a lot of questions and searching."

Would you be interested?
Would you watch?
Would you pass and hit the bars?

Munki Out.

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