The Mother of all Korean films?

Mother has been described as a thriller, a drama, a horror, a satire and a murder mystery – and in truth it is all of these things, with a little black humour thrown in for good measure.

That’s not to say this film doesn’t know what it’s trying to say. On the contrary, this latest offering from Korean director Bong Joon-ho knows exactly where it’s going, and isn’t afraid to explore emotions that are perhaps a little too uncomfortable for Western filmmaking.

Joon-ho first received attention in Korea in 2003 with Memories of Murder, which was based on the true story of the first known serial killings in the country. In 2006, his film The Host was well received by the Cannes Festival and enjoyed commercial success. Last year Joon-ho was back at Cannes, with Mother competing in the Un Certain Regard Category, which seeks to recognise innovative and daring works.

Mother certainly succeeds in both these respects,  despite its seemingly tame premise. Kim Hye-ja gives a touching performance as the widowed mother of Do-joon, played by Won Bin. Do-joon has learning difficulties, and displays a child-like naivety and dependence. When a local school girl is murdered and he is placed near the scene of the crime, police quickly arrest him and allow him to sign a confession, taking full advantage of his condition. His mother is distraught, and takes it upon herself to investigate the incident, in order to prove Do-joon’s innocence.

Won Bin’s performance occasionally comes across as somewhat contradictory, switching between the almost slap-stick comedic moments and something far more sinister, and his portrayal of Do-joon’s condition may loose some of its earnestness in its translation. Kim Hye-ja, on the other hand, is the driving force behind the story, and her depiction of the thin line between maternal devotion and hysterical delusion is captivating.

However, it is the superb direction of this film which earns it its credibility. The contrast between the manic scenes surrounding Do-joon’s conviction and those of his mother’s serene acupuncture practice are perfectly poignant. As the camera lingers on the 27-year-old simple-minded son climbing into the bed which he shares with his mother, the audience are forced to confront their uneasy relationship, which undoubtedly intensifies as as the film continues.

It is almost worth watching this film for its direction alone, which has earned Joon-ho numerous Hitchcock comparisons, but the shock revelations towards the end are both engaging and disturbing, and make Mother a truly enjoyable piece of world cinema.

Mother is released on both DVD and Blu-ray on 20th September.

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