Dir. Bong Joon-Ho
Surely I needn’t warn against the perils of watching trailers here, but it nevertheless must be spoken if one has seen the one chosen for Bong Joon-Ho’s exceptional new film, Mother. It is a fine trailer, but makes the film out to be a revenge film, a theme present in many Korean imports in recent years. However, while it’s a fine Hitchcock-ian thriller, this aspect greatly diminishes the film’s myriad accomplishments and subtleties, much as his previous achievement, The Host, was posited as a monster movie pastiche/parody.
What is seemingly missing from much of the discussion of Joon-Ho’s films is his inimitable sense of humor, one that just seems to have gotten more fascinatingly peculiar with Mother. Look no further than a masterful scene from The Host for example; a family mourns a deceased young girl with a tragic and inadequate ceremony, and the scene begins rather painfully, but devolves into an extended moment of surreal slapstick as the family members grow so hysterical that they begin literally sliding in their own tears. Joon-Ho explores humor in places that feel incongruous on the surface, moments of pure intensity or tragedy, but never lets the audience in on some kind of joke, as each moment feels more as added color than some greater satire.
Take one moment in Mother for example; a car spins around after being crushed by an oncoming vehicle, all while a distraught mother watches on from afar, crying her way down a long road, filled with confusion and heartbreak. The audience does not yet know where the car is headed, or what the fates of those involved are, but yet Joon-Ho takes a split second to include a deliriously funny cut where the men inside are caught mid-scream, just before the come to a stop. The audience does not expect a farcical moment such as this to occur within a thriller of this sort, so it dares them to laugh for a moment despite the possibility of genuine harm occurring to these characters, as if for a split second life can indeed become something of a cartoon.
Mother is graced with an extraordinary amount of subtle touches such as these, and the beauty of this film lies in these. At heart, it’s a thriller about uncovering a crime that has been resolved with too little to hold up, complete with a twist ending. However, mixed with an incredibly sincere, tender yet terrifying, lead performance by Kim Hye-Ja, Mother comes out a great deal more complex than it’s premise infers. Not to mention absolutely stunning opening and closing shots, confirming Bong Joon-Ho as one of the most intriguing and unique filmmakers developing today. He makes a labyrinth look effortless.