Mother (2009)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The name, And Views Are My Game.

When a young girl winds up dead, and a golf ball with a disabled man’s name written on it is discovered at the crime scene, the police think they’ve solved the case. But the suspect’s mother, a herb shop owner whose name we never learn, is unconvinced. Her boy couldn’t possibly have done it. So she tries to prove his innocence; by hiring a lawyer, handing out pamphlets, and, when those things inevitably fail to work, investigating on her own. In so doing, she uncovers a great many things; about the police, the victim, her son, and even herself. Specifically, the lengths she’ll go to to get him home.

Mother is an off-beat, idiosyncratic, always entertaining mystery. The film that Bong Joon-Ho made between The Host and Snowpiercer, it benefits from his dark sense of humor, keen attention to detail, and pension for telling stories with ambiguous endings. That, and some extraordinary performances by Kim Hye-Ja, whom plays the titular character, and Won Bin, whom plays her mentally-challenged son. Miss Kim, especially, deserves praise, since the film really rests on her shoulders. You see her go through so many emotional states, and you feel all the anxiety, frustration, fear and sorrow that she does. The editing of this picture is also something to behold. There’s one scene towards the beginning where she’s watching her son while cutting herbs, and it keeps moving back and forth between her face, her son, and the knife, and everything about it–the shot progression, the sound design, the acting– is perfect. For these reasons alone, along with the fact that it has some genuinely unexpected twists, I would recommend you all watch it. It is the best mystery I’ve seen in years.

That said, this is not my favorite Bong Joon-Ho film. Which is weird, because, even though I think it’s a better-crafted picture than Okja, overall, I like Okja more. Part of this has to do with some of the odder, sex-related content. For instance, Mother features some very disturbing implications about the titular character and her son, particularly about how they sleep in the same bed together, and it will definitely make some viewers uncomfortable. There’s also a sex scene between a 30-year-old man and his teenage girlfriend about halfway through that made me feel funny. No, he didn’t rape her. The dialogue makes it clear this was a consensual encounter. And no, the actress in the scene wasn’t underage. I checked, and found that she was 22 at the time the movie was shot. Still, she looks really young, her character is supposed to be 15, and the guy she’s having sex with looks a lot older than her. All this makes it kind of hard to watch. But by far the biggest problem I had with the movie is the way it portrays mental disability. As a person who is legally blind, and whose best friend is on the autism spectrum, I’m always somewhat skeptical of onscreen portrayals of disability. Even when the writers and actors go in with good intentions, and a fair amount of research, their portrayals tend to be very over-the-top and caricatured, usually relying on tired cliches. One of those cliches is that mentally challenged people are dangerous, and don’t know when they’re hurting others. This is a trope that dates back to John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, and that is featured prominently in Mother, with the son character being violent, and oftentimes being unaware that he’s doing anything wrong. This trope is not only tired, it’s dangerous. It leads to discrimination against mentally disabled people. And it ignores the fact that, in the real world, people with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators of it. I was frankly disappointed to see a talented filmmaker like Bong Joon-Ho use these kinds of stereotypes in his work. I thought he was better than that. But, ah well.

Nevertheless, Mother’s strong performances, interesting story, and stellar editing make it an all-around engrossing mystery. I don’t think it’s perfect, but I do think it’s worth watching.

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The Man From Nowhere

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

After I finished watching The Man From Nowhere, I found myself asking three simple questions. One, is this a perfect movie? Two, is it entertaining? And three, which matters more in the end? The answers I eventually came up with were “no,” “yes,” and “It depends on the viewer, but, for me, entertainment matters more here.” Because, let’s be clear, this film has flaws, but my god is it gripping. It’s got to be the most enjoyable movie I’ve seen in , well, a while. And after sitting through “artistic,” “critically-acclaimed” motion pictures, like Arrival and La La Land, neither of which I liked enough to watch again, I found this movie highly refreshing.

The Man From Nowhere tells the story of Cha Tae-Sik, a reclusive loner who runs a pawn shop in Seoul. A widower, Tae-Sik’s only friend is Son-Mi, a juvenile delinquent with a drug addict mother. The film actually begins with the latter stealing some heroin from a group of local gangsters, (always a good idea), and, as you might expect, the criminals wind up coming after her, and everyone she knows. This includes Tae-Sik, who, much to everyone’s surprise, displays incredible agility and combat skills, suggesting that there is more to him than meets the eye.

As unoriginal as its premise is, The Man From Nowhere benefits from a quick pace, good performances, and a well-written script. I’ve always said, its not the story itself that matters, its how its told. And even though The Man From Nowhere shares a similar narrative to The Professional, The Equalizer, and any number of other B-grade action films about bad-asses defending young children, it unfolds in an engaging and unique way. For instance, you don’t actually see Tae-Sik, or Son-Mi, until about seven minutes in, and information about the former is fed to you in a sparse, piece-meal fashion. There are also some really touching moments between the two of them, like when she goes to stay with him while her mother is shooting up, and she does his nails. These little scenes give the movie dramatic heft, and really make you care about these individuals. And, like I said, this film moves fast. So as great as the little moments I just mentioned are, they’re also that; little. They don’t bog down the narrative. You’re never left wondering, “Man, when is this movie gonna start?” And as I said at the top of this paragraph, the acting in this film is very good. Won Bin, whom plays Tae-Sik, does an incredible job here. He manages to convey the bitterness, sorrow, and icy precision of this lonely killer, while also displaying a great deal of tenderness. He’s very convincing in the fight scenes and chases, and is just an all around engaging presence in this movie. In many ways, he reminds me of Leonardo Dicaprio in either Blood Diamond or The Departed, films where the former teen heart throb got to show off his dramatic chops, as well as a more dangerous side. Won Bin has impressed me in all the films I’ve seen him in thus far–Mother, Taegukgi: The Brotherhood Of War–and The Man From Nowhere has guaranteed his status as one of my favorite Korean actors. It’s shocking when you realize that Man From Nowhere, which came out in 2010, is his last film to date. Maybe its because he’s married now, and is expecting a child, but still. I just hope he returns to the big screen soon. I’d also like to mention Kim Sae-Ron, whom plays Son-Mi, and who¬† does an absolutely terrific job. She’s cute, sassy, but also very vulnerable, and, unlike Natalie Portman in The Professional, whom everyone likes to claim gave the greatest child actor performance ever, she doesn’t say everything in a flat monotone. She’s got some great crying scenes, and some great comedic scenes. It’s no wonder that she is now one of Korea’s most sought after teen actors. So, yeah, The Man From Nowhere might not be original, but it’s got a good pace, a good script, and some really good acting. And all that adds up to a really enjoyable film.