Talk about a protective “Mother”

Kathleen Ambre

From dancing lightheartedly in a wheat field, to scouring her village for an alleged killer in order to clear her son’s name, director Bong Joon-ho’s headstrong matriarch in “Mother” proves to be not only the character for which the film is titled, but a source of unconditional love aside riveting catastrophe.

Living with her 27-year-old son, Do-joon (Won Bin), in a rather confined dwelling adjoining her modest apothecary, Mother (Kim Hye-ja) busily chops herbs atop a dimly lit countertop. Forgetful, naive, and mentally questionable, Do-joon is entirely dependent of, yet reluctant to his Mother’s care. Monumentally persuasive and predictably overprotective, Mother fusses over his every need from the conventional cooking and cleaning to an outlandish attempt: prove his innocence when he is convicted of the murder of a schoolgirl.

As one can assume, this is a story of the boundless limitations of maternal love but when the cops throw Do-joon in jail after blaming him for the murder of a local girl–whose battered body has been found suspended from a terrace overlooking the town–a who-done-it motherly wrath ensues. A flimsy case and lack of evidence earmark the semblance of a classic set up, an untimely fate Mother is anything but willing to accept.

Wayward on the edge of tragedy and comedy, Joon-ho’s serpentine narrative opens as a love story before fusing into something of a violent melodrama. With little back story, other than what can be assumed, his meager cast of opaque, mysterious characters fill in the blanks. Given to sudden rages, behavioral blurts and hiccups of weird humor, Joon-ho’s unseemly roles keep his audience guessing.

While your average foreign film may come off mundane, regardless of presumed linguistic limitations, this Korean film holds its own and its film maker a reputable track record thus far. A fourth feature from this South Korean director following triumphant motion pictures like “The Host” and “Memories of Murder,” “Mother” succeeds a run of cinema success.

While Mother may seem like a caricature of monstrous maternity and love gone mad, the performance is surprisingly subtle filled with shades of gray that emerge in tandem with the unwinding investigation and heartbreaking discoveries. Some crimes cannot be justified, but the guilt that proceeds from scandal is not easily condemned.