We have two foreign films now screening in Singapore which tells of the immense love that parents have for their children in a dysfunctional family nucleus, and the themes are quite uncannily similar, with all round fine performances, so much so that they are representing their respective countries in next year's Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film.
Taiwan's Not Without You looks at a father's unrelentless pursuit for societal justice to get his daughter an education, never mind having to jump through bureaucratic hoops thrown in his direction. In Korea's Mother directed by Bong Joon-Ho, whose filmography thus far speaks of quality (the latter two being Memories of Murder and The Host), the spotlight turns to the maternal side, and a mother's immense, natural love and protection for her intellectually challenged son when he's accused by society and the authorities for being behind the brutal murder of a school girl.
If you're familiar with Bong Joon-ho's works, then Mother comes without surprise at how he deftly weaves a story about mother's love into a mystery thriller that will keep you guessing every step of the way, with enough emotional firepower to twist a knot in your stomach when the truth gets played out. It's a standard three act structure here where the first hour establishes the strong family bonds between Mother (Kim Hye-Ja) and child Yoon Do-Joon (Won Bin), bordering quite close to being incestuous (but this is glossed over since we're dealing with a man-child here), before they key murder scene becomes the catalyst for Mother to do some serious investigations work in order to prove her son's innocence, given that the perverted justice system provided that bad after-taste.
I particularly enjoyed the epilogue, which ties in with the inexplicable opening credits which made more sense once you've come full circle at the end. It's the classic mantra of two wrongs never making one right, and how in the protection of loved ones, one will resort to extreme measures that blind common, good sense, and become a "rather you than me" syndrome, which I believe every one of us are capable of if we find ourselves pushed to a corner with no where to run. Bong Joon-Ho is again at his element in unravelling the investigations process, which ties in black comedy with painful, dramatic moments, being evenly paced with heightened tension at appropriate moments.
And kudos of course must go to actress Kim Hye-Ja, who almost single-handedly carried the film on her own, since Won Bin disappears mid-way through. Her single mom, with so much affection for her son, just dazzles and makes it convincing that she's been that single pillar of strength and shelter for her son when he gets up to shenanigans brought about by no good company of his. It's not the first time Do-Joon got himself into a fix, given the strange mannerisms he's been taught to try and jog his memory, and Won Bin showcases his acting chops as the dim-witted boy whose disability gets frequently exploited, coming off as endearing at times, so much so that you're quick to judge and side with him as a victim of circumstances, being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Mother is definitely recommended stuff, especially if you're a Bong Joon-Ho fan as he delivers yet another powerful film that will leave plenty of post-screening discussion. My only regret is not having to have watched this earlier (since it's playing on KrisWorld), but better late than never. Make time for this, as it's only screening in 2 halls in Singapore, otherwise you'll have to make do with the DVD which is already on sale overseas.