It’s true, Bong Joon-ho’s Mother — a thrilling blend of horror and I Remember Mama — is only in limited release at the moment, and expanding slowly. It is, however, available on cable on demand and [Update: release pending] I’m here to tell you to demand it, and watch it, twice. Use the first viewing to absorb the slippery facts in the story, about a Korean schoolgirl found murdered in an abandoned building. A 27-year-old man of limited mental ability is charged with the crime. His mother dedicates herself to proving her son’s innocence…and to finding a killer.
Then use the second viewing to revel in the breathtaking sharpness, wit, and elegance of the filmmaking — the work of one of the coolest international cinema artists working today. Bong’s ability to play one tone against another (comedy and suspense, horror and melancholy, social commentary and melodrama) is like the talent of a great jazz master working in simultaneous contrasting rhythms, and every little riff carries meaning. (There are no wasted shots, no lazy moments in his composition.) We focus on the mother –played with zest and conviction by Korean TV and movie veteran Kim Hye-ja — as a monster as well as a kind of saint, a sweet little traditional lady first seen chopping herbs (how domestic, like a scene out of a Korean folktale!) as well as a new kind of feminine power. But as he did in his previous, boundary-breaking horror masterpiece The Host, and before that in Memories of Murder, Bong also fills his story with a lively menagerie of secondary characters (not to mention fully fashioned blink-and-they’re gone characters), all of whom contribute to the filmmaker’s ongoing sketchbook on a theme of Korean society. Mother takes time for businessmen on a golf course, schoolgirls with mobile phones, cops who cut corners, and a junk-collecting hermit. And Mother‘s particular mother shows her maternal obsession not only when defending her son against the outside world, but also when monitoring his eating habits at home. Oh, and wait ’til you see her dance. You’ve never seen dancing look so mysterious. Watch and tell me if you don’t agree.