Translated Title: Mother
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Starring: Hye-ja Kim
Director: Joon-ho Bong
I'd been meaning to explore more of this director since he came out with the best monster flick in years with “The Host,” and this film clinches it; South Korea now has two directors that everyone should start keeping a close eye on. Using a play on words (both “Mother” and “Murder” translate to the same 'letter' in Korean), this tale of tragedy is simple in its design, right from the actual plot itself right down the use of language, cinematography and musical score. Yet, it never feels raw as much as it does simply unapologetic in its treatment of the subject material; the characters are on display as ultimately human with both the good and the bad left for all to see, yielding a certain sense of natural complexity that makes judging their actions all the more difficult.
What on the surface might seem like a straight-forward murder mystery is given new life by the circumstances that surround them; the man of his early 20s, Yoon Do-Joon, arrested for the murder of a high school girl in an apparent open-and-shut case and his mother the only one being the only one believing in his innocence. Failing to make way with the legal route, the poor single mother begins to dig into the mysterious murder herself, believing her son to be have been framed, abused for his borderline mental retardation and overt inability to remember. Frequently in trouble with the police as a result of his friendship to local hooligan Jin-Tae, few believe him incapable of such an action, but as more is unveiled about all those that surround the case, we learn that nobody in this tale can truly be called innocent.
The casting of unknowns felt like dangerous territory for the young artist still with only a handful of films under his belt; his last two featuring the ever versatile and enigmatic Kang-Ho Song, but the issue is partly avoided by the script making use of only one pivotal figure. Many of the characters have comparatively minor roles and are forthright with their rather open persona's, leaving the task of developing the narrative to Hye-ja Kim, and it's here that he really seems to have struck gold. So little is in what is actually being said, and so much more is in the actions she carries out in order to save her son, and there's more to it than simply what those actions are but in her reactions to them; the expressions in her face and eyes; the tired or depressed look of a woman despairing over her plight, exploding in a flood of tears or screaming in anger. There is emotion in her performance at even the most subtle of times and it's evident from the very opening scene of her carelessly dancing in the field that's she's desperate to forget the weight of the world upon her, if even for only a moment.
This film is unpredictable and will probably conclude in a way you wont expect but not because of any grand twist (though there is of course the mystery element) but for simply feeling detailed in its realism. There are no 'Oldboy' grand villains or devious masterminds in the background; there's no journey to some seedy underworld that only comes out at night and – god forbid – the mother doesn't turn out to be some sort of martial arts master either. She really is simply a caring mother who has lost her world and will do anything in her limited power to see him returned to her. The people in the story are real, the plot is never far fetched and the bond between a mother and a son may have never felt stronger than it does here, but love is after all like a rose; what's beautiful on the surface can still hide it's thorns.