Film Review: MOTHER

Directed by: Bong Joon-Ho
Written: Eun-Kyo Park and Bong Joon-Ho
Starring, Hye-jo Kim, Bin On
Released: May 28, 2009
Running Time, 128 minutes

Sometimes it’s necessary to go as far away as South Korea to get a fresh take on something as American as noir, and Mother was just the movie to do it. For anyone who’s put off from watching sub-titled films, I assure you that within minutes you won’t realize you are reading. Asian films have less dialogue than say, French, films. Much is conveyed through actions and facial expressions. If this film comes you way, give it a try, even if you are a firm English only film-goer. Ho is also the director of Memories of Murder and The Host, both recent successes. It will be exciting to see what he does next.

Plot: Mother (Hye-ja Kim) has a mentally challenged son (Bin Won) and keeping him out of trouble and supporting them both is a challenge. He tends to get into fights when people disparage his mental abilities. When his virility is also challenged, he spends a night drinking and attempting to pick up girls to prove he is as manly as his friends. During the night, a young girl is murdered and hung over the rooftop for the town to see. Murder is very unusual in Korea so the police aim to solve it quickly. It’s all too easy for the lazy police to pin it on the son when a golf ball with his initials is found near the murder site.

Mother, an excessively devoted parent, hires a lawyer who is content to take a small fee and cop a plea to a lesser charge. Convinced her son is innocent, Mother decides to find the true murderer herself. She follows the trail of clues like any good bloodhound, eventually coming upon the truth.

Although there are touches of humor and enjoying homages to other films, this is essentially a dark and highly original story. Ms. Kim gives a mesmerizing performance that is dark, comic, obsessed. And Bin Won gives a performance that makes her devotion work. We are never exactly sure of what he understand, remembers, or has in his heart. We are never sure if Mother’s devotion doesn’t border on mental illness.

In an interview with the director, Joon-Ho admitted he wanted to subvert the traditional Korean family drama and he chose an actress that had played in many of them for just this reason.

I doubt that you will see a better example of noir than Mother. But it is also a police procedural with Mother standing in for the police. Mother is presented in a straight-forward style that makes watching it a pleasure. The movie begins and ends with a dance, conveying both the dark and light of the movie.

Patti Abbott writes crime fiction short stories. She hosts a look at Forgotten Books every Friday with readers, writers and reviewers at She hopes you’ll join in.