Mother (Madeo) [2009] • South Korea • Bong Joon-ho

It’s too bad that because this film is ostensibly about an old lady it must be considered a "smaller" film in Bong’s oeuvre. It’s not. It is every bit as brilliant, and as large, as Memories of Murder, in my opinion.

In many ways this is the natural, and equal, follow-up to Memories of Murder. It’s every bit the caper film that one was, and, although slightly more somber in tone, the film keeps unraveling in directions you don’t expect making it much more a plot driven movie than a character study. Kim Hye-ja is, however, magnificent as the titular (gawd I hate that word but I’m using it anyway) mother. There is a scene in this film where she tells the family of the victim her son didn’t do it and her eyes are so electrically charged it made me jump back from the screen. Mother fires on all cylinders. The direction, cinematography, script, and acting are all grade A. It’s one of those films where each of the secondary characters steals the show for a brief period. How ‘bout that cop who kicks the apple from Won Bin’s mouth? Bong does a remarkable job of populating the world of this film with real people and manages to give them depth and development in a very short period of time. I confess to having a little trouble tracking the other adult female characters in the film, but no matter. There is a scene (without spoiling anything here) where Kim Hye-ja asks the other ‘retarded’ kid if he has a mother and it's one of the most complex and heart-rending scenes in cinematic history. Hyperbole notwithstanding, just freakin’ WOW! on that one when you ponder just why she is crying.

I wasn’t sure where Bong was going to end up going as a film maker. Barking Dogs Never Bite was a reasonable debut. Memories of Murder, a masterpiece. But was it a lucky shot? I’m glad I don’t have to consider the dismal Antarctic Journal a Bong film if I don’t want to. The Host was lots-o-fun, but that’s the one that worried me. Maybe he was going to start making blockbuster type films. But now, after recently seeing his contribution to Tokyo!, and now Mother, I have every reason to believe he is going to kick my butt with interesting film for a long time.


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