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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Mother

July 25th, 2010

Mother - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Bong Joon-ho previously directed The Host, which I reviewed way back when it came out in theaters. That film earned incredible reviews and made more than $2 million at the box office, which is impressive for a foreign language film. This movie earned even better reviews, but it struggled to find an audience at the box office. Is there a way to reconcile these two facts?

The Movie

The film stars Kim Hye-ja as a widow living in a small town in South Korea. She lives with her adult son, Do-joon, who is a little on the slow side and because of that she is very protective of him. The film starts with her watching over her son while cutting the grain she sells. He, on the other hand, is trying to teach a dog to stand at attention, but also "At ease". He's not a cruel taskmaster. While his mother watches on, he is suddenly hit by a fancy car, which speeds away. This prompts him and his best friend, Jin-tae, to chase down to the culprits at the local country club; after all, as Jin-tae says, where else would a Benz be going in a small town like that? The logic seems spurious, but he's right. However, by the time they get there, Do-joon is a little unsure why they are there and instead begins collecting golf balls that were lost in a water hazard. When I said he was a little on the slow side, I was being kind.

The confrontation between Do-joon and the people that hit him with their car results in Do-joon being in more trouble than the people that committed the hit and run. He even takes the blame for hitting their car and breaking the mirror, which is something his friend had done. Later that night he tries to go out on a date with a woman at a local restaurant, but the woman is only interested in Jin-tae, who didn't bother to show up. Then when he falls asleep at the restaurant, he's yelled at by the owner and thrown out, prompting him to try to pay for his drinks with the golf balls he had previously stolen. On his way home, he throws one of the golf balls away before noticing a school girl walking on her own. He asks if she wants to get a drink, but when he doesn't get the reaction he wants, he continues home to bed.

The next morning, she is found murdered and he is arrested. It turns out one of his golf balls was found at the scene and that's enough for the police. It doesn't help that he's eager to sign a confession and help the police build a case against him. I did mention he was slow, right? And the police are happy for him to take the fall, since it makes them look good. However, his mother has faith in her son and begins an investigation on her own. And she will stop at nothing to clear her son of this crime, no matter where her investigation leads.

That's as far as I can go without getting into major spoiler territory, and even minor spoilers should be avoided when going into this movie. There are a number of twists in this film, none of which I want to even hint at. They do feel organic and work in such a way that you will want to re-watch the movie to see if you missed any clues. After watching the movie I read a number of reviews / discussions on the movie, to see if my interpretations of some of the twists were shared or if I had missed something. (There seems to be a few competing theories on a number of reveals.) While doing so I noticed the term "Hitchcockian" pop up more than a few times. This is high praise, but it is well deserved. The writing and directing here are excellent.

That said, perhaps the part of the movie that helps it stand out the most is the performance by Kim Hye-ja as the unnamed mother. Bong Joon-ho states in the making-of documentary that he wrote the film for Kim Hye-ja and she is perfect in it. In fact, she won the Best Actress award at both the Asia Pacific Screen Awards and the Asian Film Awards. Her character is the heart of the movie, while her performance is its greatest strength.

If I were looking for something to complain about, I would mention that the film takes a while to build. But that's a pretty minor complaint when you get to the end.

The Extras

I only have the Blu-ray to review, so I'm not 100% sure what is and is not contained on the DVD vs. the Blu-ray. That said, over on Amazon.com, the Blu-ray is actually cheaper, so it is clearly the better deal.

Extras on the Blu-ray start with a 90-minute long making-of documentary. It starts from the beginning, how Bong Joon-ho came up with the idea based on the actress, and goes right until the end and its reception at Cannes. In between there are a lot talking heads, behind-the-scenes footage, etc. There are also a lot of people talking about their mothers, which is not the kind of thing usually found on a making-of featurette, but it certainly makes sense here. There is a shorter, 15-minute featurette on the score, a 14-minute featurette on the supporting cast, 9-minute featurette on the cinematography, 12-minute featurette on production design, a 9-minute look at the career of Kim Hye-ja, and finally 7 minutes of behind-the-scenes / interview with Kim Hye-ja. That's a total of two-and-a-half hours of extras. Granted, it's all in standard definition, even the two trailers. The disc is BD-Live enabled, which is something.

As for the film's technical presentation, the word I would use to describe the video is soft. The colors are not particularly bright, the detail level isn't very high, and the contrast is not sharp. However, this is likely the result of artistic choices and not a fault with the transfer itself. Likewise, the audio is presented in a clear, but front-heavy, 5.1 Korean track. No dubbing here, but usually the dubbed track is clearly the weaker choice.

The Verdict

Mother is quite different from The Host and trying to say which one is better would be nearly impossible. I think this one made less at the box office because monster movies are an easier sell to moviegoers. However, they are both superb and need to be seen by more people. The DVD and the Blu-ray are worthy contenders for Pick of the Week, but the latter is the better deal.

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Filed under: Video Review, Madeo