Sunday, February 28, 2010

"Mother" - Movie Review

This morning, my movie class had a bonus screening of a South Korean murder mystery titled "Mother".


When a young man is arrested for the murder of a teenage schoolgirl, his mother tries to prove his innocence -- but after a witness to the crime implicates the son, will she still fight for his freedom? 


Kim Yoon has had a tough life -- without a husband or any other family, she has worked many years at a small shop selling various herbs and herbal remedies, as well as performing unlicensed acupuncture on the side just to make ends meet.  Add onto that the fact that for the past 28 years she has been trying to raise her retarded son Do-Joon all by herself, and you can imagine how much of a toll the years have taken on her.  One night, the lonely son goes off on his own seeking female companionship in various locales ... and unsurprisingly, coming up empty.  Frustrated at his failures, he sets off into the late night trying to make his way home -- but when a teenage girl he followed is discovered murdered the following morning, he is arrested and charged with the crime. 

Believing they have what amounts to an open and shut case, the police won't even entertain his mother's pleas to consider the fact that her son has been falsely accused.  When she tries to scrape together her meager funds to hire an attorney, she finds few will take the case -- and the one that does is so convinced of her son's guilt, he suggests the best legal recourse would be to have the young man sent to a mental institution because he would wind up spending less time there than if sent to prison.  Finding this alternative completely unacceptable, the mother then decides to take matters into her own hands -- if no one else is going to investigate this case, then she will take it upon herself to do so because she's that certain of her son's innocence.  During her amateur attempts at being a detective, she makes many mistakes along the way -- and with her son's diminished mental capacity, it is difficult for him to help her out by providing any details of that fateful night.  With the town turning against her and the prospect of losing her job when her attempts at illicit practices of acupuncture can get her in trouble with the law, she begins to give up all hope. 

It is at this point that a great revelation occurs -- the murdered girl had a reputation for being extremely promiscuous and used her cell phone to snap photos of her various paramours during their trysts.  Assured that recovery of these pictures will provide evidence of the real killer, the mother sets out to locate the cell phone.  Along the way, she finds someone who claims to have witnessed the murder -- but when he discloses to her the fact that her son may have been the true killer, will she stop her quest for her son's freedom or will she disregard the facts and continue nevertheless?


I suppose you could say that the theme of this movie is that of a mother's unhealthy obsession with loyalty to her son.  In some ways, it is understandable as the two only have each other in life -- but it takes a very dark and sinister turn as revelations about the mother's past with her son unfold during her visits while he is imprisoned.  While her son's mental ability is clearly impaired, the mother's own stability is most definitely called into question by virtue of her actions -- or, in some cases, inactions -- at various points along this very interesting story.  The movie takes some quite unexpected -- and, at times, uncomfortable -- twists and turns along the way. 

While a rather compelling tale, the movie suffered from a number of flaws, but I wouldn't necessarily say that they are fatal, by any means.  First, I found it to be a little bit too long -- just when you thought the movie was going to wind up, it continued for quite a while, almost providing something of what you might call a "false ending".  Also, I found it to be a bit confusing at times, unclear as to certain characters' motivations or even due to my own inability to understand certain leaps that some characters made in terms of assumptions and judgments about specific matters that arose -- I guess this is one of those times when you either suspend your disbelief and go along with it or not.

Although I would recommend this movie with some reservations, I must acknowledge that not too many people would likely be inclined to want to see it either in a theater, as a rental or even if it showed up on some obscure cable TV channel if, for no other reason, due to the fact that it is Korean.  Add to this the fact that the dialog is in Korean and contains subtitles, the potentially small audience for this type of movie diminishes even further.  All of that said, however, it is still an intricately told and ultimately most tragic story that merits some attention and makes you wonder if the nation of South Korea will eventually turn out to be one of the next great movie producing countries.