Mother starts with a peculiar sequence – the main character dances in a field to music that may or may not be inside her own head. It’s an odd way to open a film about an investigation into the murder of a young girl in a small town. But Mother is just getting the lighthearted stuff out of the way before plunging us into total darkness.

The plot of Mother follows a similar trope: the innocent man convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Yoon Do-joon is the mentally challenged (call him retarded at your peril) son of Mother (Hye-ja Kim). While walking home after an evening out he calls out to a girl in front of him, hitting on her in a ham-fisted way. She goes into a dark building and throws a large stone at his feet. He gets the message and goes home to sleep beside his mother. In the morning, the police arrest him. The girl is dead, and a golf ball that Do-joon wrote his name on is found at the scene of the crime. He’s convicted of her murder.

All of this takes place in a sleepy small community where everyone knows one another and nothing much ever happens. The detectives arrive on the scene and ask each other the last time they had a murder in the town. More than five years ago. We can understand that their sloppy police work comes from inexperience and wanting to close the case quickly (they convince Do-joon to sign a confession under the threat of bodily harm). But Mother cannot believe that everyone in the town (who all know Do-Joon) could possibly believe that he could harm, much less kill, anyone. She talks to the lead detective on the case, who she used to give special herbs to when he was a boy in high school, but he disregards her pleas as the distraught suffering of a mother who doesn’t want to face the truth.

Mother is a film with rich characterization, anchored by Hye-ja Jim’s incredible lead performance. In one particularly effective sequence, she goes to the funeral of the girl her son is convicted of killing. It is a small town and she knows the family – she’s looking to pay her respects. She’s met with wide-eyed glares and the disbelief of mourning relatives who only see the mother of a monster, not the poor woman who they’ve taken acupuncture and bought herbs from for years. They block the entrance to the funeral home, refusing to let her in because of her son, the murderer. She looks at them with a mix of anguish and ferocity in her eyes as she emphatically says that he didn’t do it. It’s an electrifying moment. Every character in the film is given a scene like this: the busy attorney who eats standing up at a buffet because it saves him time, the best friend of Do-Joon, Jin-Tae (Ku Jin), who alternates between scenes of sneering indifference and reluctant cooperation with Mother’s investigation, and the self-assured detectives who can’t admit that there is a reasonable doubt they may have the wrong man.

Mother comes from a recent line of prominent Korean films that includes Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy and another Joon-ho Bong movie, Memories of Murder, among others. Like Oldboy, this movie concludes with a haunting and ambiguous ending, one that viewers are unlikely to forget. Sometimes the truth is right in front of us. The important thing is that we’re looking when it is.


Protip: Choose foreign films for consistent quality entertainment. Almost all foreign films that come to North America are the cream of the crop from their country of origin, making them the safest bet when you’re looking for a good movie to watch. But please, use subtitles.


3 Responses to Mother

  1. julia Turnbull says:

    Another brilliant piece! Have you seen Biutiful??

  2. Modest Movie says:

    No, I haven’t seen it yet, any good? I’ve heard mixed things….

  3. Pingback: I Saw the Devil « Modest Movie

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