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Maternal Love

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

This is a film that will bite true for anyone who's had an overprotective mother. Visually, the film is a winner. Director Joon-ho Bong slowly draws you into the small world of a mother and her son, yet the story never quite catches up. While it may not achieve greatness, it still comes pretty damn close. Bong creates a work that is at once thrilling, suspenseful, enthralling, and funny — not an easy feat.

Mother’s eccentricities are laid bare immediately but it's only after we meet her son that we begin to sympathize. Yoon Do-joon (Bin Won) is what you may call a bit slow. He's able to function ably enough, with the help of his "bad seed" friend Jin-tae (Goo Jin), but he has a bad memory and his concentration wavers. His mother (Hye-ja Kim) is obviously worried not only about his friendship but his ability to survive on his own. Despite his lagging as an adult, he is an adult, and her overzealous manners wear on Yoon Do-joon as they do on the audience.

However, her worst fears are finally realized when he is accused of murdering a local schoolgirl. To the police it's an open and shut case. She isn’t willing to let it end so fast. Slowly, she becomes the shadow detective seeking out the truth about that night and who really killed the young girl. Through many twists and turns, the film, amazingly, leaves a bittersweet feeling even after the truth is revealed and blood has been shed. It's a truly engaging story but one that isn't as clever as it thinks it is.

Hye-ja Kim is the driving force behind this film and is masterful in the role as Mother. She can at once latch onto the minute subtleties of an overbearing mother while still eliciting complete sympathy for her situation. We know why she's so attached to her son even though it still irks him and us.

Her descent into the underbelly of her town isn't as much of a descent as it should be, and many of the twists the story takes are too thoroughly foreshadowed. Much of the story is set up too well, and what should be hints that are easily looked over, and revealed in repeat viewings, become obvious.

Kim's performance is enough to seek out this gem and, along with Bong's beautiful photography, it's hard not to be sucked in. The story may not be a solid trap but it's an original film that preys on that basic maternal instinct we can all love and loathe.