MOTHER (MADEO) (director/writer: Bong Joon-Ho; screenwriters: Eun-kyo Park/based on a story by Mr. Bong; cinematographer: Hong Kyung-pyo; editor: Moon Sae-kyoung; music: Lee Byeong-woo; cast: Kim Hye-ja (Mother), Won Bin (Yoon Do-joon), Jin Goo (Jin-tae), Yoon Jae-moon (Je-mun), Jun Mi-sun (Mi-sun), Song Sae-beauk (Sepaktakraw Detective), Moon Hee-ra (Moon Ah-jung), Young-Suck Lee (Ragman); Runtime: 129; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Moon Yang-kwon/Seo Woo-sik/Park Tae-joon; Magnolia; 2009-South Korea-in Korean with English subtitles)

"An oddball sinister murder mystery that's much more than that."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

Korean director-writer Bong Joon-Ho ("Memories of Murder"/"The Host"/"Barking Dogs Never Bite") shoots an oddball sinister murder mystery that's much more than that, as it brilliantly morphs into film noir, social commentary on the patriarchal establishment, black comedy, incest, a mother's unconditional love for her retarded son, a satire on modern technology, police incompetency and sundry other things. It's based on a story by Mr. Bong and co-written by him and Eun-kyo Park.

The titular mother (Kim Hye-Ja, South Korean TV icon) works as an unlicensed acupuncturist and runs an apothecary in a rural small town, and lives in a cramped space in back of the store. She's the devoted single parent caretaker of Do-joon (Bin Won), a handsome, sensitive, mentally challenged 27-year-old who as the village idiot is constantly teased but has been taught to physically fight back, is a klutz, has a problem remembering even the most recent things and still sleeps with mom. After getting slightly injured in a hit-and-run incident by a professor driving a speeding Mercedes Benz and then giving chase with his only friend, an idler named Jin-Tae (Jin Goo), they finally locate the culprit at a golf course and get into a fight with the passengers that results in an appearance at the police station. At the police station the dim-witted foil is ordered to pay for damage to the side-view mirror of the Benz when he is unable to remember that it was his friend who had caused the damage. In the meantime, justice takes a strange twist as the upper-class professor gets off scot-free since he was attacked. 

The hapless Do-joon goes drinking one night at the Manhattan bar and while going home by an abandoned hillside house, he follows a promiscuous teenage girl, Moon Ah-jung (Moon Hee-ra), and fails to entice her. When she's discovered murdered there and her body is strewn over the roof, the police find evidence that Do-joon was at the crime scene and charge him with murder. With no lawyer present, Do-joon is easily duped into signing a confession. When the indifferent police are just anxious to close the case and fail to investigate obvious leads and the big-time shyster lawyer mom hires just wants to accept a plea bargain to get her son a lenient 4-year-sentence, mom fires the disinterested lawyer and with the thuggish help of the mercenary Jin-Tae makes inroads into solving the case--which opens up local secrets over sexual trysts and the loss of innocence among the town youths.

Mom's investigation leads to a few more twists, as the crazed mom, willing to go to any length to make sure her son is let go, gets sucked into a dark netherworld she can't get out of and the perilous situation gets even more dire and things become unpredictable. When repressed memories from Do-joon's childhood are jarred loose, the film moves into Psycho-like turf as Bong navigates it along a mad course that one recalls in Hitchcock's more suspenseful films.

The weird psychological melodrama that veers between slapstick comedy and tragedy, was well-received at the 2009 New York Film Festival. It lets us know that there's some curious pictures coming out of modern South Korea that deserve recognition.

REVIEWED ON 12/15/2010       GRADE: A

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"