VOD film review: Mother (2009)
Ivan Radford | On 17, Feb 2020
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Cast: Kim Hye-ja, Won Bin
Watch Mother (2009) online in the UK: BFI Player / Apple TV (iTunes) / Sky Store
There are some directors who are great because they jump genres from film to film. Bong Joon-ho belongs to that even rarer group of directors: those who can jump between genres within the same film. If Parasite, 2020’s Oscar-winning smash hit, was a perfect showcase for his twisting, turning, chameleonic storytelling, 2009’s Mother set the stage.
The psychological thriller follows a mother (Kim Hye-ja) who was widowed years ago and now makes ends meet as a black market acupuncturist. But that resilient, determined streak finds a renewed purpose when her son, Do-joon (Won Bin) appears to be responsible for the death of a young girl. Do-joon has learning difficulties, which sparks an extra-protective drive in his mother, who promptly goes to bat to prove his innocence.
What ensues is a warped version of a crime procedural, as the mother turns detective to find the real culprit, even though an early flashback does show us Do-joon following a young girl home at night. Does that mean he actually had something to do with her death? The mother bats aside such suspicions quickly as she logically sifts through evidence and tracks down witnesses, with a thirst for justice and correcting the broken law.
Needless to say, things aren’t that simple, and Won Bin brings an ambiguity to his falsely accused criminal – a boy who is entirely dependent on his mum but, no matter how society perceives him, shouldn’t be defined by that. This is Kim Hye-ja’s show, however, and she knows it, bringing a simmering ruthlessness and heartfelt attachment to her part – and, in one bravura sequence, a dance sequence that belies far more intimacy between us and her than her lack of character name suggests. She’s a survivor, a battle-axe, a veteran of the screen, and you can easily tell why director Bong crafted the character with her in mind.
Mother knows best, the old adage goes – but what if she doesn’t? The murky connection between boy and parent is a fascinating one to witness unravel, as we see how fanatical, near-blind love can be unhealthy in certain circumstances. Underneath that unconditional devotion there’s a disturbing quality to it all, one that leaves you increasingly unsettled, as director Bong turns screws behind the scenes, and deftly hops from shock to comedy to anger to strangely sweet family drama with all the slippery confidence of Soderbergh or Hitchcock in their prime.
Mother (2009) is available now on BFI Player, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription.