Mother | Recommended Film Of The Week

Paul Ridd discusses Bong Joon-ho’s seminal 2009 release

Paul Ridd

20 May 20

This week's home screening recommendation is Bong Joon-ho's fourth feature film Mother from 2009, an intricately formed and superbly acted Korean thriller about a mother desperate to prove the innocence of her son who is accused of a savage murder. 

Before he made Academy Awards history earlier this year by being the first Korean director to take home the Best Picture Oscar for his superb seventh feature Parasite, Bong Joon-ho had built a phenomenal and varied filmography. Deftly traversing an assortment of genres, small and large scale Korean productions, a trip to Hollywood and diversely cast international co-productions, Bong Joon Ho's films are united by their keen interest in human stories, socially conscious commentary, adroit class satire and a captivating visual style intended very much for the big screen.

Following his tightly constructed detective thriller Memories Of Murder (2003) and ultra-stylish monster horror The Host (2006), Bong returned with the comparatively small scale and intimate Mother in 2009, a hit at that year's 'Un Certain Regard' section of the Cannes Film Festival. The film centres on unnamed widow Mother (Hye-ja Kim), who lives with her son Yoon Do-joon (Won Bin). Mother carves out a modest living selling herbs and working as an unlicensed acupuncturist, all the while remaining fiercely protective of Yoon, who unwittingly finds himself in various scrapes with the law. But when evidence implicates Yoon in the brutal murder of a local schoolgirl and police pressure a confession, Mother sets out to find the real killer and bring them to justice, determined to bring home her son at any cost. 

Full of striking images, particularly focussed on showing Mother's helplessness but determination in crowds, packed urban landscapes and during shocking confrontations with various people on the journey to finding the true killer, Mother has an ambitious scope and scale. The film's keen interest in the divide between rich and poor and the force of the law versus individuals thematically links it with Parasite's refreshingly acid look at social inequality. But Mother never loses sight of its singular focus on the relentless and unconditional love of its central character, her desperation and compulsion driving the film forward with a restless momentum. 

Packing in shocking twists and turns, the film moves with the pace of a classic detective story. It shares something in common with the Hitchcock-infused thrillers of Brian DePalma with its intense score and extraordinary visual flourishes, but it also finds space for quieter moments of reflection and subtle character work, showcasing the phenomenal acting of its cast. 

It's a completely gripping, unpredictable and ultimately moving film, and one which fans of Bong Joon-ho and newcomers to his cinema since Parasite alike will relish. His epic dystopian thriller Snowpiercer recently released in the UK  is also well worth checking out.

Watch Mother on the BFI Player here.