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Film / Mother (2009)

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Mother (or Madeo) is a 2009 South Korean film by Bong Joon-ho, starring Kim Hye-ja and Won Bin.

Yoon Do-joon, an amnesic young man, is thrown in prison for the murder of a local girl, Moon Ah-jung, after a night of heavy drinking. Mother believes that her son is innocent, and tries her damnedest to get Do-joon Yoon to remember details that will help his case. The help of others is enlisted, too, but not all are reliable — prompting Mother to take things into her own hands, even if danger seems to lie just around the corner.

In no way related to the 1996 film starring Albert Brooks and Debbie Reynolds, or the 2017 film starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, much less the Maxim Gorky novel and 1926 Soviet film adapted from it.

Contains examples of:

  • Accidental Murder: Possibly. Do-joon threw the rock at Ah-jung with the intent to harm, but given his mental state, he might not have been aware that it would kill her. After he forgets and then sees her dead body, he's alarmed and tries to put her in a place where she'll be seen.
  • Amnesiacs are Innocent: Played with. Do-joon is shown following Ah-jung on the night of her murder and can't remember what he did that night because he was drunk and suffers from amnesia, but the evidence against him is circumstantial at best and her past is revealed to be very shady, all of which suggests that he is innocent. The end of the film reveals he actually was the killer—her shady background made her aggressive towards him and she accidentally hit his Berserk Button.
  • Ax-Crazy: Subverted. Ah-jung's boyfriend is accused of murdering her at the end of the film because he has a history of mental illness, but it turns out he's actually very docile and it was Do-joon who killed her.
  • Badass Bystander: When two youths are abusing Ah-jung's friend, Mother uses a ruse to catch the attention of a random cook in the alley, hoping he'll intercede. Indeed, when he sees what's happening, he immediately leaps to the girl's defense, driving off the punks single-handedly. He's never seen again.
  • Berserk Button: Do-joon is usually quite passive, but reacts violently whenever someone calls him a retard. This turns out to be the reason why he killed Ah-jung.
  • Black Humor: On occasion.
  • Book Ends: Begins and ends with Do-joon's mother dancing; at the start in an open field, and at the end on a bus after voluntarily erasing her memory of her son being a murderer.
  • Brain Bleach: Do-joon's mother claims to know how to help people forget painful memories using acupuncture, which becomes a Chekhov's Skill.
  • Bullying the Disabled: Done repeatedly through the film to Do-joon by both Jin-tae and the police.
  • Bungled Suicide: The mother tried to do a murder-suicide to herself and Do-joon using insecticide. It failed, leaving Do-joon in a state of Trauma-Induced Amnesia.
  • Cassandra Truth: At the end of the film, no-one believes Ah-jung's boyfriend explanation as to how he got her blood on his shirt (they were having sex when she got a nosebleed), allowing Do-joon, the real killer, off the hook.
  • Chekhov's Gag: Do-joon is mocked by the police for rubbing his temples intently when he's trying to remember something. Then the witness mimics the killer doing this after murdering Ah-jung, and Mother realises exactly who it is.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The golf balls that Do-joon wrote his name on become a key piece of evidence in the murder.
    • Mother's tin of needles. Not only does she take it everywhere with her, she leaves it at the witness's house after she sets the fire that kills him.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Mother states that she can help people forget a painful memory by using acupuncture on a specific part of the person's leg. In the end, she uses this technique on herself to forget the fact that Do-joon and herself are murderers.
  • Clear Their Name: Mother's goal is to clear the name of her simple-minded son accused of murder. It turns out he really did do it.
  • Dance Party Ending: Probably one of the most gut-wrenching examples out there. The mother is on a bus tour meant for showing gratitude for mothers; all the other mothers are dancing happily, while she sits in her place, horrified at what she'd gone through. She then uses the needles she can use to erase memories on herself and joins the party.
  • Dance of Despair: A possible interpretation of the mother getting up to dance with the rest of the bus party, having used the needle to forget.
  • Dead Guy on Display: Ah-jung is left on a rooftop for everyone to see. A detective says the person who murdered her did it to boast. Heís wrong; it was Do-joon who killed her, promptly forgot he did, and, in his state of panic, put her somewhere where she could be seen so that someone might help her, but it was too late.
  • Downer Ending: Ah-jung's boyfriend is wrongfully accused of murdering her while Do-joon, the real killer, and his mother, who covered up for him, escape justice.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When Jin-tae blames Do-joon for wrecking the Mercedes Benz, it establishes Do-joon's as a Forgetful Jones who can forget things he's done almost immediately and be manipulated into thinking he's done something else. This becomes relevant in regards to the murder.
    • Do-joon is established to violently attack anyone who calls him a "retard." This becomes relevant in regards to the murder.
    • Ah-jung's nosebleeds become relevant later in the film.
  • Forgetful Jones: Do-joon has severe amnesia, which he has to counter by rubbing his temples to trigger whatever he might have to remember. What might come up is usually helpful, but it's anyone's guess what itíll turn out to be.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: We never see Ah-jung's death, or the witness's.
  • He Knows Too Much: Do-joon's mother kills the only witness who saw her son murdering the girl.
  • Hidden Depths: Jin-tae is little more than a neighborhood lout, but when he turns his attention to clearing Do-joon's name, he reveals himself to be quite shrewd and skillful. He realizes himself that he was born to be a cop.
  • Hide the Evidence: Do-joon retrieves his mother needles from the house where she murdered the only witness who saw him murder the girl.
  • Heroic B So D: Mother suffers a huge one when she realises that Do-joon himself is the killer.
  • Karma Houdini: Do-joon, the real killer, and his mother, who kills the only witness, escape justice at the end of the film.
  • Mama Bear: Do-joon's mother will stop at nothing to save her son from being convicted for Ah-jung's murder, even when it's revealed that he is actually guilty.
  • MacGuffin: Ah-jung's phone, containing pictures of the people she slept with.
  • Manchild: Do-joon, whose amnesia leave him extremely dependant. He reacts violently when someone calls him an idiot. Reaches Psychopathic Manchild at the end, when itís revealed he killed Ah-jung with a heavy rock because of this.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: The witness's death. Although Mother beats him over the head, everyone assumes that he died in the fire she set.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The memory-erasing needles may or may not work. In the final scene, the mother still seems a little reluctant to join the party after erasing her own horrible memories, so either it takes time for it to work or it runs on placebo.
  • Miscarriage of Justice: Ah-jungís innocent boyfriend is accused of murdering her instead of Do-joon.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Mother breaks into tears after killing the only witness who could testify against Do-joon, and again when she visits Ah-jung's wrongfully accused boyfriend in prison and realizes that unlike Do-joon, he has no family to save him.
  • No Name Given: Do-joon's mother is never referred to by her full name throughout the film.
  • Once More, with Clarity!:
    • The scene featuring Do-joon drunkenly following a girl is revisited near the end of the film, proving that he was in fact the killer; the girl was Ah-jung, who called him stupid in a fit of resentment towards men, and he threw a heavy rock at her head in anger.
    • We get a flashback of Do-joon taking his mask off and waving to a local girl. This time, the audience will notice the trash collector in the foreground.
    • At one point in the film, a brief shot appears of a young boy being offered a drink, which then cuts to Do-joon's mother vomiting in her toilet. At first, it looks like she's throwing up from the alcohol she drank at the lawyer's party one scene earlier. After the first Wham Line listed below, it becomes clear that the young boy is Do-joon, the drink being offered is poisoned, and his mother is actually throwing up the poison she already swallowed, all in a flashback.
  • Parental Incest: One of the suspects interrogated about the case voices his suspicion this about Do-joon and his mother, despite being told otherwise. He gets a tooth knocked out for it.
  • Putting On My Thinking Cap: Do-joon rubs his temples intently to jog up his memory.
  • Psychopathic Man Child: Do-joon is eventually revealed to be this with the twist that he did kill Ah-jung.
  • Red Herring: Jin-tae begins the film as a bit of a bully who exploits Do-joon, and Mother also investigates him as a possible murder suspect, but he ultimately joins forces with Mother in an attempt to clear Do-joon's name.
  • Red Herring Twist: Played straight and played with:
    • Near the beginning of the film, Jin-tae, accompanied by Do-joon, has a confrontation with a group of rich people, and he vandalises their car when they're not looking; at the police station, Jin-tae blames Do-joon instead, knowing he won't remember it otherwise, leaving him and his mother in a lot of debt, despite being aware of their financial difficulties. Shortly after, Ah-jung's murder scene is shown, leaving the debt plot point mostly untouched.
    • Friends of Ah-jung suspect she was killed for having compromising photos of her sexual partners. She wasn't, but her sexual experiences did lead her to become resentful towards men, which caused her to lash out at Do-joon, who then killed her in a fit of rage.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Ah-jung was raised by her grandmother.
  • Really Gets Around: Ah-jung was notorious for sleeping around in exchange for sacks of rice to support her grandmother.
  • Seamless Spontaneous Lie: Near the end of the film, the police think Ah-jung's boyfriend is telling one when he says her bloodstains on his shirt came from when they were having sex and she had a nosebleed.
  • Together in Death: Referenced. Mother tried to commit a murder-suicide with Do-joon when he was five, but the poison wasn't lethal.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Do-joon is brought wearing a mask to Ah-jung's murder scene to protect his identity; completely oblivious to whatís going on around him, he takes it off to wave hello at his mother. This is how the only witness who saw him murdering Ah-jung can confirm to himself that he knows who did it.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Do-joon's mother is very displeased with him befriending Jin-tae, a thuggish womanizer.
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia: Do-joon's amnesia stems from repressing the memory of his mother attempting a murder-suicide with him.
  • Villain Protagonist: The mother turns out this when she kills an innocent witness and lets an innocent man get falsely imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit
  • Villainous Mother-Son Duo: Deconstructed. Do-joon really killed Ah-jung, and his mother ultimately murders the only witness who could testify against him and willingly allows an innocent man to be convicted for her son's crime. However, Do-joon acted in the heat of the moment and has no recollection of what he did, while his mother feels so guilty about what she has done that she wipes out her own memories.
  • Wham Line:
    • When Mother visits Do-joon in prison and asks him if he remembers anything about the night of Ah-jung's murder, and he replies:
      Do-joon: [I remember] you tried to murder me.
    • Later in the film, Mother seeks out the only witness to the crime, hoping that he can prove Do-joon's innocence:
      Witness: They got the right guy.