March 24, 2023

Kim Hye-Ja in MOTHER, a Magnolia Pictures release. (Photos courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

AAP staff report

“Mother” (Magnolia Pictures Rated R), a unique murder mystery about a mother’s primal love for her son, and the latest film from Korean director Bong Joon-ho (The Host), starts Friday, April 2 at the Lagoon Cinema in Minneapolis.Mother (portrayed by Kim Hye-ja) is a devoted single parent to her simple-minded twenty-seven-year-old son, Do-joon (Won Bin). Often a source of anxiety to his mother, Do-joon behaves in foolish or simply dangerous ways.

One night, while walking home drunk, he encounters a schoolgirl who he follows for a while before she disappears into a dark alley. The next morning, she is found dead in an abandoned building and Do-joon is accused of her murder.

An inefficient lawyer and an apathetic police force result in a speedy conviction.  His mother refuses to believe her beloved son is guilty and immediately undertakes her own investigation to find the girl’s killer. In her obsessive quest to clear her son’s name, Mother steps into a world of unimaginable chaos and shocking revelations.

“Everyone has a mother, and everyone has a precise idea of what a mother is,” states director Bong Joon-ho in the production notes. “This is the person that cherishes each of us most, who is the most gentle to us, and the most irritating.”

As relationship between a son and his mother is the basis for all human relationships, Bong Joon-ho said he wanted to push this bond to the extreme in a story that would exemplify the mother’s heart of a fireball.

In his previous films, “Memories of Murder” and “The Host”, Bong said he could speak about the idea family and the United States in relation to Korean society. With mother, he said he takes a more introspective path where forces converge.

The project started with actress Kim Hye-ja, a veteran of Korean film and television for almost fifty-years. She won the 1982 Manila Film Festival’s Best Actress Prize for her role in Late Autumn.

It was her starring role in The Rustic Diary, one of the longest running and most beloved television series in Korea, that nearly stereotyped Kim Hye-ja with the image of an endlessly tolerant, boundlessly loving mother.

Bong Joon-ho saw another facet to the actress and dreamed up the story of “Mother” specifically with Kim in mind, to show her ability to display the psychological intensity and emotional sensitivity to illuminate the unseen power in the destructive side of her personality. He said it would completely subvert the almost sacred maternal image she helped construct over the last thirty years.

“The figure of the mother has been seen before,” he added. “It’s very banal, but I see this as a new approach, and I hope it will be perceived that way. Like something that is familiar from home, but really came from abroad.”

Kim said that Bong approached her in 2004 about wanting her to be in one of his films. She was struck with the encyclopedic knowledge he had of her career and roles – reciting dialogue from her old TV dramas. She said that the film industry kept sending her scripts for the same roles with the attitudes that she had recreated over the years and wanted to move beyond those parts. She said “Mother” offered something different.

“I was determined to do something different this time, so I asked Bong to push me to the extreme – And he was only happy to oblige!” said Kim. “On the first shoot we did eighteen takes, some kind of a record for me, and by the seventeenth take I was thinking, “Oh my God, I am ruining this movie!”

She said that process went on for five months. Bong was “tough but admirable” in not giving up until each scene was just right.

“The whole experience was like a dream, and very hard to let go.  Of course, I am wracked with a new anxiety, half anxious, half expectant, thinking about how the audience will respond to her.”

Won Bin plays the simple and naïve son, Do-joon, a true innocent with an endless series of hazards as a consequence. He is a handsome but entirely dependent man-child and no one takes him seriously but the villagers are stunned when he is arrested for the murder of a teenager.

Won Bin has been cast as the ideal younger brother and son in several Korean films. He left lasting impressions on audiences in the Korean war epic, “Taegukgi”, and the drama “My Brother.” He said that after a four-year hiatus, he would like this different kind of role and the film to be a turning point in his acting career.

“Do-joon is not an easy role to play,” said Won. “He is, frankly, frustrating, due to the fact that he is a true innocent. The risk of audiences rejecting him is definitely there.”

Won said that Bong Joon-ho discouraged a performance that would draw attention to itself and not to the character. He enjoyed the opportunity to explore ways to accomplish this depth of character – and credited his co-star Kim Hye-ja as a role model.

“I had to find a way to portray innocence itself and not just project an “innocent look,” said Won. “This whole task was overwhelmingly difficult but was also tremendously appealing.”

Kim Hye-ja was also immersed in the character of a mother and her life-and-death struggle. She had to emphasize her inner turmoil rather than react to outside events, to allow viewers to follow the emotional contours of a terrible journey.

“By the middle of the shoot I so thoroughly identified with Mother that just looking at Won Bin (Do-joon) would make me cry,” she said. “I had to unwind quite a bit after the shooting wrapped.”

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