All About the Mother

03/10/2010 4:00 AM |

Directed by Bong Joon-ho

Korean genre master Bong Joon-ho’s foremost mode of storytelling is investigative, from the young woman tracking an apartment complex kidnapper of canines in his debut, Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000), to the cops pursuing a serial killer in Memories of Murder (2003), the family uncovering a government conspiracy in The Host (2006), and even the prying pizza delivery girl in his segment from 2008’s three-director omnibus Tokyo!. Though it begins as a Dumb & Dumber-ish buddy farce, Bong’s latest, Mother, quickly turns into a blue-hued small-town neo-noir wherein slapstick comedy flows into tense set pieces and fits of desperation.

The mentally disabled 27-year-old Do Joon (Won Bin), to date the most ineffectual of Bong’s dopey male protags, is jailed for the murder of a young girl early on, leaving his elderly, batty mother (Kim Hye-ja) to clear his name with no help from local cops and lawyers. Authority, as usual, is portrayed as comically inept if not thoroughly corrupt, as when the region’s foremost criminal attorney drunkenly sings his defense for Do Joon into a karaoke bar mic. Thereafter the film becomes increasingly embroiled in the progressively darker and more extreme investigation that leads the incredible Kim over coolly beautiful pastoral landscapes filmed with majestic long shots, and into claustrophobic, dim interiors with jittery handheld. Along the way Bong mixes Twin Peaks-caliber mysticism with Coen-esque existentialism and immersive textural details. The mother’s liberation provides the film’s sun-filled early morning climax, Bong’s subtlest and most moving to date.

Opens March 12