Madeo [Mother] (2009)

Director: Bong Joon Ho
Writer: Eun-kyo Park, Bong Joon Ho
Cast: Hye-ja Kim, Won Bin, Jin Goo, Je-mun Yun, Mi-seon Jeon, Sae-byeok Song, Hee-ra Mun, Woo-hee Chun
Seen on: 19.9.2021

Content Note: cripping up, (partly critical treatment of) ableism and whoremisia

Do-joon (Won Bin) is everything for his mother (Hye-ja Kim) who has a fiercely protective streak, despite him being grown up. But he also has a learning disability, and tends to get in trouble together with his best friend Jin-tae (Jin Goo), so she has good reasons not to let go. When a neighborhood girl turns up dead, and a golf ball with Do-joon’s name is found next to her, he is arrested. His mother is certain that Do-joon is being framed and is determined to get to the bottom of things.

Mother is an unusual crime movie. Unusual in the way it is told, but also unusual in the story it tells. This unusualness makes it enjoyable for crime fans and those (like me) who aren’t that much into crime as a genre.

The film poster showing Yoon Do-joon (Won Bin) huddling behind his mother (Hye-ja Kim).

I wouldn’t say that Mother is entirely unpredictable – I felt very sure about certain outcomes from the start and was right about them, too – but it certainly has unpredictable elements and moments, without sacrificing believability for surprise (stretching it a little, maybe). The crime story is also not that important – both narratively and to the characters. They are not really interested in finding the real killer – just a killer, and the mother (she doesn’t get a name in the film) just wants to make sure it isn’t her son.

The film has streaks of dark humor and there is some biting social commentary in it as well about how disabled people are used, about how everybody in the village seems to think nothing of it that a school girl has to sell sex for rice (instead they sneer at her sex work), about the theatracality of the police investigation.

The mother (Hye-ja Kim) standing in wheat field.

But at its heart, it’s a film about the mother and the question of how far she will go, how tenacious she can be. It is no coincidence that she doesn’t get her own name, her own identity – she is all mother, though she hasn’t always been. But as a single mother, she had no choice but to learn how to go far and how to be very tenacious indeed. It’s an interesting character study – and Hye-ja Kim is perfect in the role.

The film does have faults – its criticisms of ableism and whoremisia fall a little short and partly reproduce what they try to criticize. And the tone shifts are sometimes a little abrupt. But overall, it’s a unique film worth seeing.

Yoon Do-joon (Won Bin) pressing his face against the partition in the prison visitor room.

Summarizing: a good watch.

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