A widow (Kim Hye-ja) resides with her mentally challenged son (Won Bin) in a small South Korean town, where she scrapes out a living selling medicinal herbs. Mother and son are plunged into a nightmare when the body of a murdered young girl is discovered. Circumstantial evidence indicates the son’s involvement, and he becomes the prime suspect during the sloppy police investigation. Betrayed by the legal system, the mother takes the law into her own hands to clear her son’s name.
Mother is another movie from Bong Joon ho, so naturally it was on my list of movies to watch. I didn’t really know what to expect going into it, except of the initial plot description being about someone being accused of murder and his mother trying to prove his innocence. It turned out to be a lot more than I thought it would be, a great and engaging social mystery thriller that really sticks with you long after watching it.
I won’t talk too much about the plot to avoid spoilers. At its core, Mother is a straightforward story, a murder mystery story where one character tries to prove that another is innocent. It’s quite a low key thriller, yet it packs a suspenseful plot, with some clever and impactful twists throughout that’s effectively unpredictable. It’s a riveting murder mystery film, with quite a good central mystery and a real neo noir feel. Bong balances the thrilling mystery and the hard-hitting drama, while adding a bit of his signature humour along the way. Like with Bong’s latest film Parasite, Mother is very Hitchcockian, but also off kilter in the way that you can expect from the filmmaker from his other movies. There’s a lot of social commentary, as to be expected from Bong, such as when it comes to the police, portrayed here as being incompetent, clueless or corrupt. The movie is also really about how much someone is willing to go to save their child, and that theme is present throughout. The ending was great, without getting into too much depth here. It is a very haunting movie, it really sticks with you long after you’ve seen it. It is effectively bleak and unsettling too, and by the end a little depressing. But it is told very well, so you’re still invested throughout. There aren’t many criticisms that I have, I guess it is a bit long at around 2 hours and 10 minutes long, and some of that time could’ve probably been trimmed down a little. The pacing was also a bit slow and could drag at some points, it being a slow burn thriller, but it wasn’t too slow that it bothered me however.
The acting is all great but the performance that stands out of course is the lead Kim Hye-ja, playing the unnamed mother only credited as Mother, and she is fantastic in this film. Despite some of the questionable things that she does over the course of the movie, you can still identify and sympathise with her and her situation. It’s a powerhouse performance, filled with such emotion and nuance, and she’s excellent here. Definitely one of the film’s greatest strengths. Won Bin, who plays her son is also quite good, as someone who has an intellectual disability. Even though the mother is adamant that he is innocent, you’re not quite certain that he is, and can never tell really. The rest of the cast are also good, but it really is Kim Hye-ja’s movie through and through, she owns every scene that she’s in.
Bong Joon-ho’s direction is typically great, and he’s put everything together greatly, it’s edited very well. The cinematography is pretty much perfect, it was shot excellently and is absolutely stunning to look at, and the imagery really sticks with you. The score by Lee Byung-woo is great too, and really fitted the rest of the movie well.
I will say that Mother isn’t one of my favourite movies from Bong Joon-ho like Memories of Murder or Parasite were, but it’s nonetheless a great film that’s extremely well made. With an intriguing and unsettling mystery, a great script, excellent direction and a great lead performance from Kim Hye-ja, it is definitely worth the watch.