AFTER hitting jackpot with the blockbuster THE HOST (2006), which has ultimately became Korea's highest-grossing film ever made, writer-director Bong Joon-Ho returns to his familiar small-scale mystery territory that recalled his own 2003's breakthrough, MEMORIES OF MURDER.
But those mainstream audiences expecting his similar crowd-pleasing commercial vibe the director has throttled in THE HOST will be most likely to be disappointed with his more subdued and less showy approach.
Instead, his latest film, MOTHER is meticulously paced in unobtrusive manner with an echo of Hitchcockian-like filmmaking style.
The titular elderly mother (Kim Hye-Ja, whose character is never given a name) lives in a small, unnamed South Korean town with his 27-year-old mentally-handicapped simpleton Do-Joon (Won Bin). She runs a herbal apothecary, and performs unlicensed acupuncture to make ends meet. With burdens already worn her out day in and day out, she also have to be constantly on the look out for Do-Joon in which she is particularly worried about his friendship with the bad boy Jin-Tae (Jin Goo). One day while she is working, she witnesses her son nearly knocked down in a hit-and-run accident by a luxury Benz. Nevertheless Do-Joon and Jin-Tae seek revenge at the nearby golf club to confront those who is responsible for the hit-and-run accident. That particular confrontation placed them both under arrest and Do Joon's mother ends up having to pay for the damages. In the meantime, Do-Joon simply goes home later with a couple of golf balls with his name on it. Soon something bad happens: Do-Joon's golf ball is found next to a murdered high-school girl hanging over the roof of an abandoned building. The cops see it as an open-and-shut case and immediately arrest Do-Joon. Since Do-Joon has no memory whatsoever that particularly fateful night, he fails to prove himself innocent. However, his mother insists that her son is innocent, and does whatever she can to find out the truth and at the same time, pursuing the real killer.
What could have been a compelling murder mystery isn't matters much anyway, since writers Bong Joon-Ho and Park Eun-Kyo aren't interested in crime procedural but rather focusing on a more intimate manner at Do-Joon's mother, both emotional and psychological state she is subsequently endured.
Nonetheless, what drives the film the most is the groundbreaking performance by the 67-year-old TV veteran Kim Hye-Ja, who is simply remarkable as the overbearing mother. She is certainly has a commanding presence, though at times she tends to go a bit far with her over-the-top mannerisms but remains engaging to watch for. On the other side, the rest of the cast are equally credible, with the long-missed Won Bin who returns in his first role since completing his military service, gives a convincing performance as the dim-witted Do-Joon and he is certainly deserves a wide round of applause for portraying something out of his usual heartthrob image.
Aside from Kim Hye-Ja's stolen limelight throughout the film, this one also remains a strong testament for Bong Joon-Ho. Every camera angles he has positioned are well-calculated and like his previous efforts, he understands well the cinematic language of visual precision -- especially during the film's escalating tension of closing in for the pursuit of the killer's identity, together with his brilliant use of extreme close-ups on certain sceanarios and his actors' faces to evoke sense of anticipation.
Though it's hardly a fine masterpiece one would hope for, the film remains recommendable enough.