Thursday, May. 14, 2009

Mother: When Parent Turns Crusader

What would parents do to protect or avenge their children? Anything, everything, according to three prominent entries at the Cannes Film Festival. Mother is the first.

She might dream of dancing in wheat fields, but this widowed mother (Kim Hye Ja) has little time for reverie. She runs a small herb shop, practices unlicensed acupuncture and rarely takes her eyes off her son Do Jun (Weon Bin), a handsome, feeble-minded lad of 27; she cares for him, feeds him, lets him sleep in her bed. Do Jun's best friend, the rough-hewn Jin Tae (Jin Gu), stands him up one night at a bar. As the drunken Do Jun staggers homeward, he attempts to flirt with a young woman, then passes a door from which a stone slab is thrown at him. The next morning, at the same location, the police find the dead girl's body and arrest Do Jun for her murder. Impossible, the mother believes, and launches a crusade to find the real killer and free her son. (See pictures of the Cannes 2009 red carpet.)

Director and co-writer Bong Joon Ho, who made the grisly Memories of Murder and the monster-movie hit The Host, loves to mix psychological subtleties with parboiled action-movie clichés. Mother is no different. A murder mystery that will keep viewers guessing, the film deftly sets up murder suspects, only to find reasons to absolve them; laces in a clever subplot involving a schoolgirl, who after sex, requests rice and rice liquor as payment and takes cell-phone snapshots of her johns; and, just for the heck of it, throws in a jarring car crash. As in many a Korean film, the police are mostly brutal or incompetent. No CSI sleuthing here; Mom has to do it all herself.

At the movie's soul is the 67-year-old Kim, whose sober visage anchors this portrait of a protective love that teeters between devotion and obsession — no matter what harm may come to those in the path of her beloved son.

See the top 10 Cannes Film Festival movies of all time.