Do yourself a favor and pull up your mom’s number on your phone before the opening credits even start, because you’ll be doing good to make it all the way through this film without calling her. As the nameless mother in question, Kim Hye-Ja is a guilt trip personified, protecting her son, Yoon Do-joon (Bin), whose mental disabilities are illustrated in depth but never named outright, from his own shitty decisions.
When Do-joon’s obliviousness leads him to just about the worst place possible — the soon-to-be scene of a brutal murder — and he winds up arrested and more or less tricked into confessing to the crime, his mother is forced to conduct the investigation the police are uninterested in pursuing. The characters, every single one of them, are nuanced past the point of comfort, too real to completely identify with, especially in the film’s later acts, but Mother’s dedication to her ungrateful, undeserving child should register with any viewer who enjoys a semi-typical mother-child relationship.
Yoon Do-joon’s mother is more concerned with his well-being than he seems to be, and more convinced of his innocence. Do-joon, it seems, was too drunk to remember the events leading up to the murder, so it’s up to his mother to reconstruct them and prove his innocence, while he critiques the prison’s food and reminisces about practically everything but the night in question. Anyone who’s turned in a science-fair project that was constructed by his or her mother the night before can probably relate. Alfred Hitchcock is an obvious influence on the scenes meant to incite suspense (of course), and the murder mystery itself is of the Law & Order order, but viewers who’ve seen the sort of characters Bong Joon-Ho developed around an aggressive river monster in The Host shouldn’t be surprised to hear that he’s managed to make another of that film rarity — the plot-driven character study. Note to the countless gazillionaire Hollywood producers who study my film reviews for valuable investment tips: Give Bong Joon-Ho some money. History will prove you right if the box office doesn’t.
— Jeremy Martin