While I usually hold back my pronouncements about a film until the end of my reviews, I'll go ahead and spoil it for you: If you're a mystery geek — or just enjoy a good story — you should definitely take a couple hours to check out “Mother,” now playing at Market Street Cinema. A taut, genuinely surprising take on the classic murder mystery with a dark and disturbing twist, it's a really fine bit of mind candy.
Made in South Korea (it's subtitled in English), the film follows the fortunes of a middle-aged acupuncturist and traditional healer known only as “Mother” (Hy-ja Kim). Tending shop in a small city, Mother lives alone with her a-few-fries-shy-of-a-Happy-Meal son, Do-Joon (Bin Won). Their relationship is strictly one of love/hate, with Do-Joon playing tough with a fast crowd of boys during the day, and retiring to sleep in the same bed as his mother at night. After a promiscuous local girl named Jae-Moon (Je-Mun) turns up dead with her skull crushed, Do-Joon is picked up by the police, many of whom are former friends of Mother and her mentally-challenged son. With the police declaring the case closed, no help from her crooked attorney and her son doing more to incriminate himself than clear his name, Mother sets off as the world's most unlikely detective, trying to find the real killer. While that quest seems to be taking the very well-worn path of Unlikely Detective yarns, it soon detours into some very dark territory, and winds up in a place so amazingly unexpected that it's almost enough to make you gasp.
Though I'm always a little wary of making judgments about the performances of foreign actors — their delivery might be as wooden as a cigar store Indian for all I know — I can say that Hy-ja Kim is amazing as Mother, in a turn that is all about the eyes, the body and the movement of her hands. I've long said that good acting isn't about words. It's about selling the emotion through the body. And Hy-ja Kim is amazing here in selling both her character's vulnerability and underlying Lady MacBeth vibe, all with very little dialogue.
In short: “Mother” is a thriller that I suspect Hitchcock would have been proud to put his name on. See it if you're a fan.