In the opening credits of Bong Joon-ho's Mother we see the titular mom, played with a subtly enthusiastic bravura by Kim Hye-ja, in a vast field that appears to be straight out of The Sound of Music, and dancing to a tune that that probably only she can hear. This absurdist imagery, the ordinary acting unordinary, pretty much sums up Bong's movie in one fell swoop (as well as his cinema as a whole), and we still have another two hours of gloriously deranged cinema coming at us. The story of a mother's dogged quest to free her mentally challenged adult son from prison after he is arrested for the murder of a local schoolgirl, Bong never once turns his film into the socially-strained weepy nor the serious-minded production one would expect given the circumstances of the plot, instead allowing his film to progress at a natural, albeit twisted and often perverse, pace and therefore creating a human tragedy, wrapped up in dark comedy, deep inside another tragedy.
But still, as Bong's camera trawls the winding alleyways of his po-mo film noir, weaving its kino-eye through the peculiar strains that are South Korean cinema, flashes of surreal horror peeking around each corner, ready to pounce if ever the opportunity should present itself, this ends up, from bizarre opening dance, straight through the dark recesses of a mother's oft-times murderous motherly duties, right on to the closing moments of surprising, and quite ironic tranquility, Ms. Kim's film. Giving a performance that is beautifully nuanced, fluctuating between doting, mother hen and rapacious protector of her young, Kim devours the scenery in such a subtly devious manner, we never even see what is coming next from her wild eyes and matching crows nest of hair. Playing out as a monster movie of sorts (Kim's mother is as much an unstoppable creature, a force of nature, as Bong's beast was in The Host, especially if you try and hurt her baby boy) Mother is a wicked, virtuosic take on the obsessions of motherhood that never lets up its relentless pursuit of cinematic daring that has become a hallmark of sorts for the cinema of Korea, and for the short yet brave oeuvre of Bong himself. [01/22/11]