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(2010) *** R
129 min. Magnolia Pictures. Director: Bong Joon-Ho. Cast: Kim Hye-Ja, Won Bin, Jin Gu, Yun Je-mun.

/content/films/3804/1.jpgThough father are no slouches in this department, the thriller and horror genres have always taken a special shine to mothers, from Psycho to Carrie to Friday the 13th. Bong Joon-ho's Mother takes a more sympathetic view of dear old mom. This mother is ruthless—she'll do anything to achieve her ends—but her only motivation is selfless, a total devotion to her son.

Mother's success partly owes to Bong's twisty mystery script, but the South Korean film wouldn't fly without the achingly intense performance of Kim Hye-ja. When her grown but mentally-challenged son Yoon Do-joon (Won Bin) gets drunk one night and pads off after a high-school girl, she’s found dead the next morning. When he's arrested for the girl's murder, Mrs. Yoon fiercely pursues his release. At first, she tries conventional avenues: a plea to the lead investigator, who she knows personally; hiring the town's top lawyer; and interviewing her confused, vacant, forgetful son to ascertain clues regarding the night of the murder. The sloppy police investigation closes quickly on the basis of a piece of evidence that seems to point to Do-joon's guilt, but few seem to believe he's actually guilty. "Mother" launches her own amateur investigation, leading her to sneak onto properties, steal potential evidence, and countenance the torture of uncooperative witnesses with the help of one of Do-joon's friends (Jin Goo), turned enforcer.

Though the implications of the plot are consistently pitch-black, Bong cultivates a sly sense of humor, beginning with a wonderfully weird opening-titles dance for Kim. As in The Host, Bong evinces a keen eye for detail, both in mise-en-scène and social gestures (while the murder mystery, dream-like dancing and Laura Palmer-esque victim suggest a kinship with Twin Peaks). The picture's heart belongs to "Mother," of course. A smothering mother, she's always on: during an early scene, when the otherwise docile Do-joon confesses to assaulting some rich jerks after they call him a "retard," Mother replies, "Good boy," and even during a prison visit, she tells her son to tuck his shirt in. Bong teases out a terrifying poignancy not only through the obvious avenue of a family on the brink of collapse but by adding for Mrs. Yoon identification of a victimized Down’s syndrome boy with her son, and of herself to the dead girl's grandmother (Kim Jin-gu, seemingly cast to resemble an older Kim Hye-ja and therefore a possible future for “Mother”). Mother is a perverse and haunting grabber in the lately neglected mystery genre.

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 7/20/2010

Distributor: Magnolia Home Entertainment

Magnolia brings Mother to Blu-ray in a very nice Blu-ray special edition. Having not seen the film on the big screen, I can't judge the accuracy of the hi-def transfer: my gut impression is that the contrast runs a bit light, which subtracts from the crispness of the image (likewise, colors are muted, but probably intentionally so). A closer look, though, reveals that detail is quite good, making the film-like hi-def picture generally satisfying. Sound is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, which must be considered definitive: the atmospheric sound demands subtlety, which the mix provides, while also supporting a few jolts and musical highs; dialogue and ambient effects are handled well.

Bonus features kick off with the feature-length documentary “Making of Mother (1:30:35, SD), which includes extensive behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew, some of whom share mother stories: director Bong Joon-ho, Kim Hye-ja, director of photography Hong Kyung-pyo, producer Park Tae-joon, art director Ryu Sung-hee, Won Bin, Song Sae-byuk, Jun Mi-sun, Moon Hee-ra, producer Suh Woo-sik, Jin Goo, and music director Lee Byung-woo.

In “Music Score” (15:17, SD), Lee, guitar in hand, talks us through the film’s musical motifs, intercut with footage of the scoring sessions.

“Supporting Actors” (14:33, SD) offers further behind-the-scenes footage interspersed with interviews with Bong, Jin, Yoon Jae-moon, Jun, Moon, Song, Kim Byung-soon, and Kim Jin-gu.

“Cinematography” (9:12, SD) takes the same tack, with interviewees Hong and Bong.

“Production Design”
(11:48, SD) includes more B-roll and chats with Ryu, Bong, Suh, and Hong.

Mislabeled, “A Look at Actress Kim He-ja” (9:23, SD) is more of a making-of overview. Production manager Nam Sung-ho narrates, and participants include Bong, Suh, Hong, Ryu, costume designer Choi Se-yeon, and Lee.

“Behind the Scenes”
(6:51, SD) is another promotional featurette, with Bong, Kim, Won, Yoon, Jun, and Jin.

Lastly, we get “International Trailer 1” (1:15, SD) and “International Trailer 2” (1:39, SD), as well as the BD-Live hookup.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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