Ferocious is the word that I would use to describe the performance at the heart of Joon-ho Bong’s outrageous and suspenseful film, “Mother.” The sweet-faced Hye-ja Kim portrays the titular character with a verve and passion rarely seen in American films. It’s an incredible role, and the chief reason (among many very good ones) to see this movie.
When her son, the simple-minded Yoon Do-joon (Bin Won) is arrested and accused of murdering a local schoolgirl – even though he has no recollection of the night in question – Mother (her character is never named) springs into action, determined to prove his innocence. What she doesn’t count on, though, is the dark journey such an undertaking will entail.
The film’s tone may take some getting used to as it begins with some very broad, comedic strokes that would seem at odds with the more serious and violent themes to follow. But Bong keeps things just unbalanced enough to keep you guessing while new secrets are revealed and red herrings are exposed.
Through it all, though, is the anchoring performance by Hye-ja Kim. Here is an actress whose inner turmoil is all too evident in everything she does. There are no lengths she won’t go to in order to uncover the truth. This is a woman whose sole purpose is to take care of her son and nothing will get in her way. The film is unafraid to explore some of the darker sides of this peculiar mother/son relationship, which only serves to deepen the already-disturbing implications of Mother’s actions. Kim wears every step of this journey on her face. It’s a perfect performance.
Bong was responsible for the entertaining monster-on-the-loose film, “The Host,” a couple of years ago, and with “Mother,” he proves that he is a superior director capable of working in any genre. Working from a screenplay co-written with Eun-kyo Park, Bong has envisioned a scenario that is at once horrifying and, at the same time, fraught with humor. The film straddles a fine line between slapstick comedy and knee-grabbing suspense that would make Hitchcock proud. One minute, you’re laughing at the absurdity of characters wrestling in a golf course sand-pit and the next, you’re biting your nails in tension as the camera follows a very simple puddle of water. Who says you need explosions to make a film exciting?
As a result, “Mother” is one of the most entertaining and squirm-inducing films I’ve seen in awhile.
Be sure and see it with your mom. You’ll be glad you did!
MOTHER; DIR: Joon-ho Bong; STARS: Hye-ja Kim, Bin Won. SCR: Eun-kyo Park and Joon-ho Bong. 129 mins. Rated R.