Oh “Mother,” where art thou?

Pub date March 17, 2010
SectionPixel Vision

You can guarantee that a movie titled Mother is not gonna be a love fest, ever. And through the lens of The Host (2006) director-writer Bong Joon-ho, motherly love becomes downright monstrous — though altogether human.

Much credit goes to the wonderful lead actress Kim Hye-ja as the titular materfamilias, who’s frantically self-sacrificing, insanely tenacious, quaintly charming, wolfishly fearsome, and wildly guilt-ridden, by turns. On the surface, she’s a sweetly innocuous herbalist and closet acupuncturist — happily, and a wee bit too tightly, tethered to her beloved son Yoon Do-joon (Won Bin). He’s a slow-witted, forgetful, and easily confused mop-top who flies into deadly rages when taunted or called a “‘tard.” When Do-joon is quickly arrested and charged with the murder of schoolgirl Moon Ah-jung (Mun-hee Na), Mom snaps into action with a panic-stricken, primal ferocity and goes in search of the killer to free her boy. But there’s more to Do-joon, his studly pal Jin-tae (Ku Jin), and Moon Ah-jung than meets the eye, and Mother discovers just how much she’s defined, and twisted, herself in relation to her son. Bong gives this potentially flat and cliched noirish material genuine lyricism, embedding his anti-heroine in a rural South Korean landscape like a penitent wandering in an existential desert, gently echoing filmmakers such as Ingmar Bergman and Abbas Kiarostami and beautifully transcending genre.

Mother opens Fri/19 in Bay Area theaters.