MADEO (Bong Joon-ho, 2009)

South Korean writer-director Bong Joon-ho’s The Host (Gwoemul, 2006) is a terrific thriller about (among other things) familial commitment and love. Whereas that film centers on a father’s love for his young daughter, Bong’s Madeo (Mother), also a terrific thriller about familial commitment and love, centers on a woman’s love for her mentally challenged, twentysomething son, Do-joon. When Do-joon is arrested on scant evidence for the murder of a schoolgirl-neighbor, his mother is determined to solve the crime in order to exonerate her son, who, impressed by unanimous police certainty of his guilt, has signed a confession. The boy, who drank heavily the night of the murder, can hardly remember a thing.
     Bong, who along with co-scenarist Park Eun-kyo, won the best screenplay prize at Dubai, has come up with a helluva yarn, one with turns and twists that dart out like the tongue of a snake. Intriguingly, Bong’s opening scene, showing Mother dancing by herself in a vast field as though listening to some interior music that is silent to the rest of us, remains incomprehensible until the end, when the implicit explanation proves heart-walloping. The film’s final scene, onboard a bus, finds Mother dancing amidst other mothers, all of them honorees for their parenting according to their offspring; despite the multiplicity of mothers—they are shot so that we see something akin to dancing silhouettes—Do-joon’s mother still seems to be inside her head and dancing alone. This brilliant passage surely was influenced by the jitterbug contest in David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. (2001). Indeed, the sly humor and dreamlike weirdness of Bong’s film suggests Lynch’s influence throughout.
     Kim Hye-ja won best actress prizes playing Mother, and she is okay; but heartthrob Won Bin nails Do-joon, who is not dumb and has his mother’s back.

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