A ‘Mother’ you're not likely to forget 

South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho is an artist who understands his craft so thoroughly and wisely that he is able to throw the rule book out the window and concoct challenging, substantial and entertaining stories all his own.

His latest, “Mother,” is a dark domestic comedy that becomes a grisly crime drama that curves into a madwoman melodrama and beyond — a sometimes messy but often masterful bit of genre mix held together by a compelling core theme and an exceptional lead performance.

Bong, whose previous films include “Memories of Murder” and “The Host,” again supplies bumbling cops and a monster story, though the latter involves mother love this time.

“Mother” (Kim Hye-ja), an herb vendor and unlicensed acupuncturist in a small South Korean town, dotes on her son, Do-joon (Won Bin), a childlike 27-year-old who hangs out with a troublemaker (Jin Goo).

Early on, Mother watches over Do-joon so consumedly that, chopping herbs with a scary blade, she nearly slices her finger off. Lots more blood, along with grim secrets, will spill.

The whodunit involves the killing of a schoolgirl, for which Do-joon, following a drunken night that he can’t remember, is arrested. Fiercely maintaining Do-joon’s innocence and having no faith in the lazy police, Mother launches her own investigation to clear her son.

Her sleuthing uncovers ugly village secrets. Shocking truths soon emerge about Mother as well.

Bong isn’t the tidiest of filmmakers. His plot could lose a couple twists. His hazy resolution will frustrate some. He doesn’t quite achieve the emotional swell that the story’s Greek-tragic ingredient requires.

Yet this is excitingly original and filling filmmaking, both as a take on the mother figure and as a style combination plate.
Bong’s visual highlights include a spilled-water anxiety moment that Hitchcock would applaud.

The screenplay (cowritten with Park Eun-kyo) has wit. Material featuring disconnected teens obsessed with cell phones adds social dimension.

We’re also, thanks largely to the cast-against-type Kim — a veteran Korean star known for playing virtuous mothers — treated to one of the most formidable movie mothers ever.

In sync with Bong’s interest in the extreme, she creates a brave exaggerated picture of inspired fury and of love turned monstrous. Simultaneously, she conveys shades and sadness that result in an intriguing character portrait.

Never mind the Hollywood remake that Kim and Bong will likely inspire. Filmgoers seeking something different as well as
accessible and entertaining should check this “Mother” out.



Three stars

Starring Kim Hye-ja, Won Bin, Jin Goo, Yoon Jae-moon
Written by Park Eun-kyo, Bong Joon-ho
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Rated R
Running time 2 hours 9 minutes

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Michael Daboll

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