If the Joker were a fifty year old woman. And Korean. And into floral patterning.
With the obvious exception of Oldboy, I think The Host might have been my favorite of the recent golden age of Korean cinema that happened in the last decade or so. It was just so uniquely entertaining, delivering the goods on the monster movie side of things as well as having an eye for the eerily surreal. A low-key classic of genre film-making and certainly one of the better horror movies to come out of the 2000's. So I was quite eager to see Joon-Ho Bong's follow-up, the intriguing if not entirely astounding Mother.
Murder-mystery is never going to be my favorite genre purely because it has been cannibalized so by television. It seems every week there's about 25 new takes on the format on various small screen outlets, so for a movie to take it on successfully it has to bring something else to it, otherwise I could just stay home and watch it for free. This was my main gripe with this year's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, a film that was universally adored but left me a little cold. I think Mother is slightly more successful take on the material, in that its very impressively stylized, features a wonderfully skewed relationship at its core and begins and ends with two moments of inspired, off-the-wall genius. The kind of scenes that show you how good cinema can be when it wants to be. Particularly the ending, which features a moment of such raw emotional power that moves from comedy to quite intense with just a change of a camera angle. The movie as a whole doesn't live up to these moments, which is a shame because if it had this would be one frickin good movie. The mystery at the film's core is engaging if not riveting, dealing with a mother's quest to prove her son's innocence, and Hye-Ja Kim's performance as the titular mother does somewhat alternate between inspired and a bit much. Generally I'd give her a pass though. Bin Won intelligently plays her son, whose slowness could have been a bit of a needless entity if not handled with care, which Won accomplishes. Kudos too to Ku Jin, who makes his small and somewhat inconsequential character land.
The mother-son relationship is probably the most interesting aspect, with a quasi-incestuous, intense co-dependency vibe. The film explores the dark side of the overly-devoted mother, and what it can lead to, and I appreciated this given the countless movies where a mother's fierce and never-ending devotion is used as a cipher, never really asking why. Being by the director of The Host, its style is striking, so when the mystery aspect sags, as it does on occasion, you never disconnect. Its the kind of movie that leaves you very impressed with everyone who made it, even if and of itself its not the greatest movie ever made. But a weaker film by a great director is still a very strong work and like I said, it does flicker above its station every now and again.