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Mother, directed by Bong Joon Ho, a Film Review!

Posted by Prosy Delacruz

“Every perceptive adult knows he is part beast and part saint, a mixture of folly and reason, love and hate, courage and cowardice. He can be at the same time believer and doubter, idealist and skeptic, altruistic citizen and selfish hedonist. The coexistence of these conflicting traits naturally causes tension but is nevertheless compatible with sanity.“
- Rene Dubos

I first saw Mother at the Bing Theater of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) on December 2009. The film viewing was as part of a series: Everything is a Mystery: Bong Joon Ho.

Mother’s love into obsession
Bong Joon – Ho’s film creation, Mother, haunts me. I could not forget the main character, Hye-Ja (portrayed by actress Kim Hye-ja, a five-decade seasoned artist of Korean film and television), a single mom to 27-year-old Do-Joon, whose emotions were mysteriously and effectively conveyed as a duality in the film.

In one scene, she is portrayed as a nurturing mother feeding her son, and in another, a servant-mom with no boundaries, feeding her son a bowl of liquid ginseng to increase his virility, while his son urinates on a public wall. To an outsider who's looking into Korean culture, this may feel offensive and crudely borders on voyeurism and perhaps, even hints on perversion and incest. This was our first introduction into the film’s mentally retarded character, Do-Joon.

Four themes occupied me while viewing it: the extent of love of a mother to her son, the politics of remembering and excavating memories, the isolation and seclusion of mentally-retarded folks, while going through society’s incarcerating institutions and the corrupting wheels of justice in a developing society.

An invigorated audience asked questions after the film screening. It seemed like a seminar at UCLA, but with art aficionados and movie-goers of Los Angeles, familiar with Bong Joon-Ho’s works. Twelve questions were raised.

One of the questions raised was why miscarriages of justice and mental retardation were recurring themes in his films. Bong Joon-Ho responded that ‘losers, (branded as disposables by society) fascinated him because they had their own stories to tell.

Do-Joon had a story to tell. Falsely accused and imprisoned for murder (for which the film managed to create a maze of possibilities as to who may have done it,) Do Joon regains part of his sanity.

And without doubt, his mother, her love for her son gets her to this point of wellness, as she ventures to places she has not travelled before, including engaging the social elite.

Overweening elite
The so-called social elite could not make Bong Joon-Ho write about them nor occupy his attention, he told us. No wonder lawyers, professors, CEOs, policemen and the so-called guardians of social institutions held themselves unaccountable to the rule of law -- leaving hit-and-run accidents unpunished, drinking in excess, being lazy in making investigations and law enforcement and concocting unreasonable judicial settlements in order to close criminal and civil cases.

A broken car mirror for a broken limb. Case closed. A frame up of another mentally retarded without a mom caring for him traded for a simpleton with a mom pursuing investigative work to get justice. A trade of lives that are socially irrelevant, those without family ties and without guilt are incarcerated anyway, and the killer is free to do more bloody trails.

Peculiar incapacities
When a society grows even with such injustices, social trust is broken, common goals for the common good are not pursued, as individuals can no longer rely on their social institutions. Why? Instead of promoting the rule of law, they become instruments of suppressing the truth and doing more acts of injustice.

The grave becomes depraved -- the hanging of a dead body in the town plaza for the whole town to see. It gives a glimpse of how irrationality and mental illnesses are spawned, one tries to find sanity in an insane situation. Rationality is lost when truth is hidden.

To this day, Bong Joon-Ho shared that the “monster –killer “ from which this film was based on, is still on the loose, and justice and punishment for his crime has not been done.

Instead of portraying this past killing based on darkness that his country experienced, he created a film that is based on mother’s love, but gone awry to protect her son.

Sparse in dialogue, the film is still effective with its imagery -- Hye-Ja's actions are replete with a litany of emotions:disgust, fear, dogged determination, courage and ingenuity. A once-secluded in life existence takes her to the school campus, to cafes, to places she has never been before.

If it were not for its murder thriller theme, the film could have been an inspiring movie for older women who are in search of a new identity in the fall and winter seasons of life.

Hye-Ja's pursuit of justice for her son brings new discoveries as she connects with more people. Obsessed, she comes out of her shell and acts decisively. A true feminist in the making, if you ask me.

Politics of remembering
Memories are put to the test, both for Hye-Ja and Do-Joon -- a struggle especially for the mentally-challenged Do-Joon. However, Do-Joon's recollections reveal the unexpected with clarity -- a memory of his mother trying to poison him when he was five surfaces.

She resorts to acupuncture to erase memories of what she does not want to remember, so she can be a free spirit once more: dancing in the prairie, amongst the wildflowers. An enchanting film, but for the darkness which can be haunting, but in any person, the balance of light and darkness exists and it is up to each one of us to nurture the triumph of light over dark! Truth hurts but concealing it can disintegrate a person even more so.

Mother premiered in Los Angeles on Friday, March 12. Watch it and be mesmerized by the mysteries of Bong Joon Ho’s film!


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