Tuesday, 3 August 2010

'Mother' review: The best thriller film since Jackson's...

Later this month comes the UK release of 'Mother', a South Korean thriller directed by Joon-ho Bong, who made his name with the excellent 'The Host' and 'Memories of Murder'. The story of an unnamed women (Kim Hye-ja) whose only son, the mentally handicapped Do-joon (Won Bin), is accused of murder. The protective mother then takes it upon herself to prove her son's innocence by mounting her own criminal investigation. The film is suspenseful and tense, but also darkly funny throughout.

Joon-ho is supremely skilled at mixing genuine tension with humour in this way. Maybe Sam Raimi and the Coen Brothers strike the same delicate balance when working at the peak of their powers, with these filmmakers able to inject absurdist black comedy into horrific events without detracting from their impact. Like those American directors, Joon-ho is able to make his scenes of graphic violence extremely visceral without verging anywhere near the "torture porn" end of the spectrum. As Jon said on the last Splendor Podcast, there is also something of an obsession with bodily fluids in his work, with urine, saliva, blood, vomit and sweat, which contribute to this feeling of tangibility.

But for all the grimy detail, 'Mother' is certainly not an ugly film. In fact it is quite the opposite, with Hong Kyeong-pyo ('Brotherhood') lighting the film beautifully. It is also not a realist film, being highly stylised whilst retaining credibility at all times, even when a lawyer begins a bizarre karaoke as a way of talking to his client or when a couple of youngsters start a fight with a bunch of old businessmen on a golf course.

Kim Hye-ja is really outstanding as the titular mother, playing her with a touching fragility, but also bringing across her obsession and resilience superbly. The film is at its very best when exploring the disturbing, almost incestuous relationship between the mother and Do-joon, played by the model-turned-actor, Won Bin. He is pretty effective too, carefully avoiding pastiche in his portrayal of mental disability. Jin Goo is also really good as Jin-tae, a local ne'er-do-well and friend of Do-joon. He seems born to play a charismatic troublemaker.

It is difficult to say too much more about 'Mother' - at least in terms of plot developments - without spoiling the film. I will say only that its conclusion is surprising and highly satisfying. I recently compiled a list of the best films of 2010 so far. I hadn't seen 'Mother' at that point, but if I had have it would certainly place high up on that list. How high? I am not sure. I think that question warrants some perspective. But expect to hear about it again in my end-of-year review.

'Mother' is, without qualification, the best thriller film I have seen in several years. If 'The Host' and 'Memories of Murder' suggested Joon-ho Bong was one to watch, then 'Mother' confirms his status as a major talent.

'Mother' has been rated '15' by the BBFC and is released across the UK on the 20th of August. Come and see it at Brighton's Duke of York's! Jon and I talked about in the latest Splendor Podcast.

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