Mother superior

Bong Joon-ho does it again with a twisty mystery

Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Rated: R
Cast: Kim Hye-Ja, Won Bin, Jin Gu, Yun Je-mun
Director: Bong Joon-Ho
WorkNameSort: Mother
Our Rating: 4.00

South Korean murder mystery Mother opens with the titular matron, played with grace and simmering tones by Kim Hye-ja, in an open field, alone and dancing gently to the music in her head. She stares into the camera at times, breaking both the fourth wall and any sense of reserve, and occasionally busts out heartwarming interpretive motions. She is laying herself bare from the very beginning, performing, as she will do for the next couple of hours in her role as a justice seeker and a martyr. 

After this prelude, director Bong Joon-ho, who crafted 2006's surprise hit monster movie The Host, throws us into a farcical character study, in which the woman's son, the mildly retarded Do-joon (Won Bin), seems to find himself forever in the way of oncoming, hard-hitting trauma. He gets hit by a car, then finds the owners of the Mercedes Benz on the town's golf course ('Where else would a Benz be around here?� suggests his rebellious friend.) and very mildly assaults the elderly group responsible. 

They live in such a small, no-action village that the police conclude that the hit-and-run and assault cancel each other out and move on. Do-joon gets drunk, makes a pass at a teenage girl and passes out. The next day, that girl is hanging over the edge of a rooftop, dead. Do-joon's golf ball, which he marked with his name, is at the scene. The local cops talk about TV shows like CSI and show off their 24-lite interrogation techniques, then present Do-joon with a confession, which he gladly signs while still maintaining his innocence. Closed case. 

But Mother refuses to believe her little boy committed the act and sets out to prove it. Here is where Mother shifts dramatically ' but never jarringly so ' into an all-too-serious thriller. Mother unravels slowly, and each investigation she makes seems to turn up shockingly torrid details about the village and the villagers, including a high-school prostitution ring, damning cell phone pics and a tell-tale golf club. Along the way, we learn disturbing truths about Mother and her relationship with Do-joon, and suddenly everybody's hands are filthy. Eventually, Mother dances not just for justice, but for humanity's buried sins. 

Once again, Bong has proven equally adept at any number of cinematic styles, even multiple levels of genre within the same film. He's not afraid to take a ticking time bomb, several red herrings and a MacGuffin, set them into motion and then leave them on the side to deal with later while he delves into the characters' personal lives for a while. It can seem, at times, like directorial ADD, but the trust that Bong demands pays off every time as these people he deeply cares about burrow their way into our hearts as well. 

By the time Bong turns the screws of the plot, you end up wishing he could put it off for just a little bit longer ' there's so much to explore. Where does Mother's acupuncture lead us? What about Do-joon's selective memories from childhood? 

It's a mark of a great film to say that even if the subplots go nowhere, you still want to pursue them. 

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