Mother (Madeo) 2009

by: Reverend Jon

How can you go wrong with a director whose name includes the words “Ho” and “Bong”? The answer: not at all! I have not had the pleasure of seeing many of Mr. Bong’s movies, but when my friend over at Grad Gastronomy recommended The Host to me a few years ago, I was delighted by his clever mix of creature horror, humor, and little guy vs. Big Brother. When the bf and I saw the trailer for Mother (shown before House) we looked at each other with “got to see that” looks on our faces.

Bong is not primarily a horror director, as I originally assumed. It seems that crime thrillers are more his domain, as two of his more successful movies are Memories of Murder and Barking Dogs Never Bite. Mother follows in those footsteps with a tale of a mother:

whose mentally challenged son:

is arrested for a crime that she is certain he did not commit. She then sets out to find out who did. I don’t want to give away too much because, unlike my last review, you will actually be able to see this one! It opens at the Angelika in Houston on March 19th and in NY/LA a week earlier.

Bong was present for the screening that I caught last weekend at the Brooklyn Academy of Music where they were hosting a Bong Joon-Ho retrospective. He opened with some great comments, which I will paraphrase from notes taken on the back of my ticket which were in turn actually spoken in English by the translator:

This movie is about a mother who becomes a monster. I showed this movie to my mother, and in the six months since she saw it, she hasn’t spoken to me about it. I hope you will be able to recommend it to your mother, although it may be difficult for you to enjoy it together.

It’s a very entertaining movie, and well worth the 128 minutes. I didn’t give it an A+ because it didn’t blow my mind, but I have no reservations about recommending it to you. It’s not overly violent (Posh), and the few scenes of violence are very well-excecuted and well-placed so that they still freaked me out without disgusting me.

Even though it is low on violence, this movie is HIGH on tension. It opens with a bedraggled Kim Hye-Ja (the actress who plays the mother, who Bong said is the ubiquitous maternal mother actor in Korea) walking through a field. As the theme song begins to play, she starts a surreal dance, alone in the waist-high grass. The laughs from the audience are to be expected at this strange scene, but it was the starting point (he described it as “a promise”) on what Bong described as the Moebius strip of the movie. By the end, when you find the reason for her dancing, it’s far less humorous.

Bong says that he wrote the movie specifically for Kim, that since she was such a sweet and kind mother character in so many mainstream Korean movies, he began to wonder what the story would be if she were secretly crazy.

The son, played by Bin Won, is a deceptively serene simpleton:

His best friend is played by the super hot Ku Jin, the only picture of whom I could find is very tiny and only gives you the smallest glimpse of his extreme smokingness, which is much on display throughout the movie:

The detectives are mean and lazy, of course:

And when the other characters get in the way of Mother, watch out!

After the movie, Stephanie Zacharek from Salon.com hosted a Q&A with Bong.

it was like this, except not

Imagine the young lady to Bong’s left replaced with a cute Korean guy (the translator) and the old white man replaced with Ms. Zacharek:

She asked some great questions, starting with Bong’s tendency to insert humorous moments into otherwise tense movies. He said that he tries his best to do all the scenes in a movie as naturally as possible, writing with the idea of recreating how people actually interact. He said that he finds it highly doubtful that anyone can be totally serious all of the time, and that humor arises naturally during the making of his movies.

Another question concerned the theme of the distrust of authority, as in this movie (and apparently also in Barking Dogs Don’t Bite) and The Host, the government is a hindrance for the protagonists. Bong stated that he personally likes the police and the government, but that he feels that in a large system, no matter how well-organized, some people fall through the cracks, and he finds their stories the most compelling.

Zacharek also asked about his use of sound, which was very deft in Mother. There are scenes when she is cutting herbs with a large blade, and the sound of the blade made me so nervous! He said that he does not do his own sound direction or sound editing, like David Lynch reportedly does (his reference), but that what he tries to ask himself is “how much can I take away” from each scene so as to emphasize what is important. He said the end result is sometimes a heightened focus on the sound.

The two most interesting questions from the audience were what are his feelings on remakes (“the more different, the better” and “if the remake is really bad, then my original looks that much better and if it’s really good, then it brings more attention to my version, so it’s a win-win”) and does he ever plan to work in the US (in a word: no).

So yeah, go check out Mother, and be prepared to crave Korean food. I have been ever since I saw it!

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7 Responses to “Mother (Madeo) 2009”

  1. xymarla Says:

    Thank you so much for recapping that excellent Q&A! I love that he referenced Lynch’s sound direction, and it cracked me up that his mother simply refuses to talk about the film with him.

    haha: “It was like this, except not.” I feel like I was there!

  2. Yeah, i don’t have a digital camera so I thought maybe someone else there would have posted photos, but couldn’t find them, so i stole a picture from another bong joon-ho q&a. And he was really funny, too. He was one of those people who seem so nice you want them to succeed.

  3. xymarla Says:

    And he has! Yay!

  4. Nice. I really have to go see this movie when it comes to Houston. It looks really cool. I thoroughly enjoyed the Host’s style and tone–it really catches your attendtion.

    That’s so badass that you got to see the director in a Q&A afterwards. I’m totally jealous.

  5. Have you seen his short film in Tokyo? The Michel Gondry one is fab, based on a story by one of my favorite comic artists who actually dated Gondry for a while, the Leos Carax one is terrrrrrible, and the Bong Joon-Ho one is pretty good.

  6. This is great. I’m a newcomer to Bong’s work but I found Mother captivating. Very interesting stuff, nice write-up!

  7. Ashiq Ahmed Says:

    Why did the trash collector say he witnessed do-joon murder the girl and how did the trash collector’s photo is seen in her mobile?,,,what was the motive?

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