A few years ago, South Korean director Joon-ho Bong was essentially mobbed by adoring fans after a screening of The Host. At the time, many of us knew nothing about the director other than the fact that he’d made a monster movie that was more than a monster movie but since then, he’s become a recognizable name (at least among film fans) and the announcement of a new project brought much joy to my heart.
As expected, Mother is more than a mystery. It’s a story of love, devotion and ultimately, sacrifice. Hye-ja Kim provides a tour-de-force performance as a slightly offbeat herbalist/rogue acupuncturist. She lives a meagre life with her son who appears to be a little slow on the uptake. When a girl turns up dead and her son is charged with the murder, Kim takes it upon herself to track down the true killer. Using her considerable skills and a knack for getting people to talk, she beings to pull back the layers of the mystery surrounding the girl’s death but what she finds at the end of the tunnel isn’t exactly what she expected.
Joon-ho Bong delivers a slowly paced mystery which sometimes feels like more of a thriller than a drama. With every new discovery there’s a sense of dread that accompanies it and just as it appears that the mystery is close to being solved, a new wrench is thrown into the mix until one is left to wonder just how the story is going to end. Yet with all the seriousness, the film also features a healthy dollop of comedy which is natural to the story and never feels forced or out of place.
Kim’s standout performance carries each scene beautifully and with just the right mix of motherly concern and ace detective. Though she sometimes comes off as a simpleton, her eyes tell the story of a wise woman, one who will do anything in her power to save her son. Though she is at the centre of the film, one can’t help but consider the film’s setting, almost a character onto itself with dark corners and unturned rocks at each turn each more dangerous and revealing than the last.
Some may find the film’s decidedly slow pace, particularly in the middle, a turn off but I loved every quiet scene of contemplation, searching and pleading. And then there’s the film’s closing half hour which introduces an entirely new set of moral questions and which truly stretch the old idea that a mother will do anything for their children.
Beautiful, a little haunting with a lead performance that is always on the brink of being un-hinged, Mother is a fresh approach to the family drama. I can’t wait to see what Joon-ho Bong has planned for us next.
See VIFF screening schedule for show times.