Mother knows best in Bong Joon-ho’s sinuous, first-rate whodunit, the South Korean director’s first feature since The Host in 2006.
Exquisitely played by Kim Hye-ja (an actress who spent decades in Korean minds as a TV mother), the title character coddles her unpredictable idiot of a son as if the 27-year-old were 7. They eat and even sleep beside each other until, one hazy night, he’s charged with the brutal murder of a poor high-school floozy. With her maternal instinct in overdrive, Mother conducts a town-wide probe to exonerate her child, leading to Hitchcockian suspense and a Pandora’s Box of repressed secrets.
From the first to last scene — both featuring Mother dancing like a possessed marionette — Bong pulls the audience’s strings with a nimble, precise hand. His now-famous compositional polish keeps the story fluent even as it cuts between psychotic and slapstick asides, the melodrama and policier genres. And with the diehard aegis of this mother as the core focus, Bong and Kim have crafted an indelible character to top his ever-growing gallery of monsters.