Maternal love, or at least maternal energy, has rarely been as pointed as it is in “Mother,” a bizarre new offering from the South Korean director Bong Joon-ho. The movie’s a study in parental willpower.
The mother here does not seem to have a name; she’s just Mother, like Anthony Perkins’ mom in “Psycho.” Mother (played by Kim Hye-ja) must constantly watch out for her grown son (Won Bin), who is not quite right in the head. (The casting apparently has more impact in Korea: Kim is known for her beloved maternal roles on Korean television, while Won is something of a Robert Pattinson-style heartthrob in Asia.)
She runs an extra-legal business in medicinal herbs and acupuncture — none of which can help her son, who keeps getting in trouble because of his simple-mindedness.
At the center of the film is an incident in which a local girl is murdered, her body left hanging over the roof of a small building. The idiot son was seen talking to her shortly before her death and his inability to answer basic questions about the incident makes him the perfect suspect for the crime.
Which is where Mother goes into gear. The protective instincts are fully engaged and the film almost threatens to become a detective story, with Mother barreling around town trying to find out information.
The movie is pitched somewhere between David Lynch-like depths of perversity (this is a strange little town) and out-and-out comedy. Which I guess could describe a David Lynch movie, too.
Director Bong Joon-ho’s previous film was the international monster-movie hit “The Host,” a decidedly original take on the subject of giant things that slither from rivers. Like that movie, “Mother” has a tendency to meander, browsing outside its plot and losing its forward motion at times.
If you’re taken by the film’s ferociously twisted main character, this might not matter too much. Bong is illustrating an exaggerated version of motherly devotion, and Kim Hye-ja’s Mother is so wildly determined in her quest that you’ll probably have to sign on just to see what she’s capable of doing next.
“Mother” (3 stars)
A mother, ferociously protective of her simple-minded son, jumps into action when he is accused of murder — a description that makes “The Host” director Bong Joon-ho’s bizarre film sound more focused and serious than it really is. It meanders at times, but the black-comic aspects are strong. In Korean, with English subtitles.
Rated: R for violence