Bong Joon-ho (Memories of Murder, The Host) is fast becoming one of the most exciting filmmakers out of arguably the most exciting country making films today: South Korea. Along with Park Chan-wook of the kick-fucking-ass Vengeance trilogy fame (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Lady Vengeance), Bong Joon-ho is winning over discerning movie nerds with his violent, smart and bizarre genre films packed with visual invention and odd comedy. His latest film Mother, a murder mystery set in rural South Korea, is his best effort to date.
It’s the story of a retarded man who lives with his creepily over-protective mother in a small town. One night he gets drunk and comes onto every woman in sight. The next morning he is accused of bashing a teenage girl’s brains in and is taken into custody. Now it’s up to his mom to find the real killers.
But don’t be fooled, dear reader, into thinking that this is some Murder, She Wrote-type shit – Cabot Cove this place most definitely is not (though really, what is more noir than Cabot Cove? The murder rate per capita there was fucking insane in the eighties). As he did in Memories of Murder, Bong Joon-ho portrays the police in this movie largely as a bunch of hick assholes interested only in catching a suspect, regardless of whether it is the right suspect. The not-quite-torture interrogation scene (or what movie nerds will from this day forward refer to as “the apple scene”) where they coerce a confession out of the clearly mentally retarded son is both hilarious and horrifying – a balance often brilliantly managed by this film.
For there are some truly sly and funny Hitchcockian setpieces pulled off in this film, little tweaks on classic suspense sequences that make them seem fresh. For instance, when the mother performs some B&E in order to find evidence on a man she suspects is the real killer, naturally the man returns mid-search. We get the Blue Velvet “trapped in a closet and forced to watch the homeowner have sex” scene, but what happens while she tries to sneak out? I was fucking howling with laughter and pissing my pants from terror at the same time.
But for all the clever twists on old genre standards, the mystery plot plays it very smart and never gets too bat-shit convoluted in the twist-and-turns department. First and foremost this is simple story about what the mother character is willing to do to keep her son out of jail, not a “this shit goes all the way to the President”-type of bullshit mystery.
So give Mother the old college try, dear reader, I doubt your ass will be disappointed. Subtitleville is where the good crime shit is getting made these days, dear reader, and it’s high-fucking-time you bought a one-way ticket to said land of noir plenty (wow, just embarrassed myself with that tortured piece of prose – let’s try that again). See movie. It good (the Pulitzer is mine, motherfucker!).