Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.



Review by David  Tredler

A woman dances, brightly, happily, in a beautiful field of flowers. The sequence feels surreal, and almost weird. We know what we are here for. Or we think we know, because after all, Bong Joon-Ho is behind the camera, and that means that we cannot trust our instincts or expectations. We will be surprised. We will be challenged cinematographically. And that woman dancing in the field is just the first clue that we are not in the presence of an easy film.
I saw Mother in 2009, just a few days after its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. It was probably the movie I most yearned to see last year, Bong Joon-Ho being the most talented Asian director working nowadays (that is a personal statement of course). The Korean director’s trajectory up until now looked like an ignition, higher and higher from the social comedy Barking Dogs Never Bite to the monster movie The Host that was thrilling, comedic, social, political and emotional, all at once. So yes, Mother was on the top of my “Films to see in 2009” list.
The synopsis clearly indicated that Bong was coming back to a lesser scale after the blockbuster status of The Host, returning to the likes of his noir masterpiece Memories of Murder. Mother’s protagonist is an old woman watching over her slow-thinking, childlike-yet-grown-up son. When a high-school girl is found murdered in the neighborhood, and her son is quickly arrested by a police eager to solve the case easily, our Mother appears decided to run all over this little Korean town to investigate herself and find out who really killed the girl.
Bong Joon-Ho’s cinema is one of disillusionment, and Mother is no different than Memories of Murder or The Host. His films are bitter and travel in a land of sorrow.  This desperate quest of a mother shows once again what a brilliant filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho is... one that manages to be simultaneously an extraordinary entertainer and an incisive witness of Korean society. His film is as much a fascinating thriller as it is a clever social comment, on justice, on police, on people’s judgments, and especially on parenthood and what the love one feels for his/her brood pushes one to do.
Of course, I must be honest and confess that I consider Mother to be a small step back in Bong Joon-Ho’s career, after The Host’s near-perfection. But how can it be another way after such a film? Mother is not, either, as dense as Memories of Murder, a film that also benefited from offering us one of the best film endings of the last few years. No, Mother did not move me as much as Bong’s previous films did, and possibly not as much as 2008’s The Chaser did, another brilliant Korean film thriller.

But if Mother is not as remarkable as those films, if I probably will not carry it in my heart as much as those, it still is an incredible piece of cinema and of filmmaking. The expectation was so big. As talented as he is, a filmmaker can’t always make a film better than the previous one, especially when it was The Host. This is also how you recognize great filmmakers. In that fallibility, in that capacity of making us feel like excellence is ordinary. While of course, it is not. At the end of Mother, you see the same image as in the opening sequence, that old woman dancing in the field of flowers. Two hours happened in the meantime. Two hours that radically change the way we perceive the scene, and the character. Two hours that proved once again you never know what to expect in a film by Bong Joon-Ho. Except excellence.

4 / 5 stars

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