Saturday, January 09, 2010
Cast: Bin Won, Ku Jin, Hye-ja Kim
Director: Joon-ho Bong
Runtime: 128 min.
Verdict: Depends on how much you enjoy a pack of lies. I mean, a wonderfully lied package.
Genre: Crime, Thriller, Drama
I don’t know, but what’s the surname here? I mean, do I call him Mr. Bong, like one of those thick accented smug 007 villains. Or is it Mr. Joon-Ho? A real silly point to be caught up on don’t you think? Still I prefer to be Elliot Carver for the day. And a note upfront for scanners: Mr. Bong is not a Bengali. He is a wonderful filmmaker from that most wonderful of all film industries – Korean – and I am still discovering the beauty of it. Give me a year.
Mr. Bong made the great Memories of a Murder, a wonderfully documented work of fiction. So fictional there are elements in it so hackneyed that they smack of the filmmaker’s helplessness when cornered by his plot, the only way out being the village idiot being run down by a train. That village idiot makes an entry again here, with his mother, and the whole pack of the filmmaker’s tricks in what is an utterly deceitful yet completely engrossing film. There is nothing in Mother that is true on the surface. I suspect it is a deeply cynical film, though the evidence at first might seem strongly against the contrary. Such is the nature of the formalism at hand that it entrances you with its beauty and freshness. In its freshness, there is nothing but the techniques of the long forgotten old school. Mr. Bong sure as hell knows how to lead his actors and choreograph them around a lie. They have little mannerisms, and they are surrounded by the familiarity of everyday sounds. Chitchats, or the rustling of shoes, or the air floating around calmly. Yes, a certain calmness abounds Mr. Bong’s films. And that his mise-en-scene during the initial establishing phase comprises wholly of slow pans and still-shots tells me that he likes this calmness, for this calmness is a lie. It is just the upper crest of a sick and venal society. On a glance it is all just ordinary. That is the world.
And in this world, Mr. Bong introduces another of his bizarre worlds of fiction. They exist amongst us, these people, but we never know them. In Memories of a Murder, we never met them, but we met his pursuers. Here we meet a mother and a son, the son a case of some kind of amnesia and hence retarded, and the mother a poor woman an acupressure expert. She has pins on her for everything. Even for making babies. I don’t know how that works. Can it make me look like Jacques Kallis? Oh dear, me and my fantasies. Never mind.
The son falls in a trap, and in this seemingly innocent town where a homicide is some kind of bi-annual event, he is accused of murdering a girl. The dead body is up there, not buried, but hanging on the terrace. It is a strange sight, and certainly one of the strangest in my time at the movies. It is not calling attention to itself, like one of them ghastly scenes in say Se7en, but in its simplicity, it is alarming. A dead girl body hanging over the terrace. It is one of the images of cinema 2009, bringing a tipping point of sorts within Mother. And here in Mr. Bong unleashes his audacity, and camp, altogether changing the established panorama. A moment of thrill, a moment of purpose, to uncover a possible suspect, and he chooses to underscore it with a trumpet. He as well might have summoned the drums and we would have loved it all even more. Such is the nature of Mr. Bong’s work – a fictional and thrilling world set in an ordinary world. The problem is, he doesn’t do much with it, except indulge in the revelation of the bizarre, which seems more artificial and less, you see, disconcerting. If you ask me to believe the schoolgirl even had to have sex with the homeless junk-picker, I would say that the disbelief is being suspended by its fingernails. It still is disturbing, because of the superlative performances, but the trickery and blatant lack of information is somewhat of an inferior choice if you ask me.
Ah perspective! That is what disappoints me, as Mr. Bong so conveniently switches from subjective to objective just to plain trick us. He doesn’t place clues, and instead resorts to hiding of information, and that too for lesser ends. If the means are mediocre, it takes the richness away from the ends. The ends seem hollow, all built up within Mr. Bong’s mind, and as Michael Sicinski says, an oedipal response to Memento. Be it known reader that the latter was entirely subjective, and hence for the most part wasn’t trickery at all.
Consider for example a pivotal moment in the plot, and what a mediocre choice of editing Mr. Bong resorts, completely betraying his lack of faith in us. The retard, drunk to his bones, is following the young school girl late in the night. He says to her something rude. She walks into a dark recess. He looks at it, and walks away. Out comes a stone, aimed at the retard, and the scene cuts. Later in the film, the scene plays again, but this time beefed up with more information. That is wrong. If Mr. Bong had chosen to tell us what the girl said, and then employed his edit, only to learn alongwith the film what the words in it cause, it would have been applause-worthy. And I believe it wouldn’t have diminished any of the plot’s intrigue.
That is the sort of formal choice that leads me to believe Mr. Bong is not as good a scriptwriter as he is a filmmaker. Here is a mother-son relationship, which in the hands of David Cronenberg, would have been gradually peeled away. Not Mr. Bong, and he resorts to sudden bursts of events, or in this case memories, to reveal the nature of the relationship. He doesn’t peel it away, he merely slices it away in one broad stroke. Reader, you might be wondering if I would choose to be a little bit clearer with my metaphors. I would love to oblige, and what I mean by slicing is that Mr. Bong resorts to strokes of convenience. Yet, he is the keenest eye for relationships. Not for a moment do any of the relationships here seem anything but real. In the end though, it is all strangely bizarre. The sort of fictional bizarre I prefer. You know, the Lynchian bizarre is some kind of academic/theoretical mumbo-jumbo that is just calling too flashy for my taste. Mr. Bong instead his sublimely poetic, and in his calm aesthetics, there is something that still makes it all believable. At least on a visual level, and even on the sensory side of things. Even a foreshadowing through the blood on the slicer (whose blood it is -> who committed the crime) seems not to abuse our intelligence. When the mother pulls out the pin and injects it into her thigh, and dances, you can’t help being sad and slightly disoriented. That means this is a master craftsman we are looking at here.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 2:45 AM