From the first scene of Bong Joon-ho’s latest movie, Mother, where we see the titular character swaying and dancing in the hay field, we instantly intuit two things. One is Bong’s unique directorial trademark that presents, as in his brilliant 2003 crime thriller, Memories of Murder, a visual splendor of Korea’s countryside that will counter the odd eccentricities, pleasant or not, of the people who reside there. The other is that this will be no ordinary tale of maternal love as her subtly off-kilter movements in the field already start to play to and against the public image of its main actress, Kim Hye-ja, who has had one of the longest careers of playing mother roles in Korea.
The play on Kim’s public image feels more pointed and enhanced by the fact that her character is never given a name and is simply known as Do-joon’s mother throughout the film. As the movie opens, we see that her son, Do-joon (Won Bin) is a 23-year-old, mentally handicapped man whom his mother refuses to lose sight of. Because of his condition, she is fiercely and almost obsessively overprotective of her son and believes that she must help him in just about everything from feeding him medicine to even tying his shoe. That certainly seems to be truer when he sustains a minor injury in an abrupt hit-and-run incident and when she must rescue him from a police station after he gets into some trouble with the law after Jin-tae (Jin Ku), who claims to be his best friend but appears to have a bad boy streak in him, has gotten him to provoke and even physically beat some rich, haughty golfers.
That is nothing, however, compared to the more serious trouble he gets into soon thereafter when he is suddenly arrested for the murder of a local teenage girl whose body was found on a rooftop. The police suspect that there was rape involved as well and have simply pointed the finger at Do-joon after finding a ping-pong ball with his name inscribed on it. They think it is an open and shut case and quickly get a signed confession out of him without care as to whether Do-joon knows what he is really signing. His mother, however, firmly believes that her son is not capable of committing such a horrible crime and so she sets out to find the real killer herself while her son sits idly in jail.