Rates: * * * * 1/2
Why Did I Watch It? It was playing at Melbourne’s reopened cinemas.
Yoon Do-Joon lives in a small village with his mother. He is a simple soul, easily lead astray, especially by his shrewd, borderline evil friend Jin-Tae. Then Do-Joon is accused of murder; a young girl has been found brutally slain, and he was witnessed during a minor drunken encounter with her the night before. But…. what actually happened?
Once they have a suspect, the police are happy to sling Do-Joon in jail and close the case. But his ever loving mother is not going to let him slip away without a fight; she really will stop at nothing to get her son back.
And another five paragraphs of plot.
Bong Joon-Ho’s former title holder as his best film shares a lot in common with the new champion; this plays much like a proto ‘Parasite’. A lot of different tones are juggled; the movie starts out broadly funny, with comedy at the expense of the dim wit son. This is punctuated by some very tense moments, that come seemingly out of nowhere; Do-Joon’s encounter with the girl has a creepy, surrealistic edge, and his mother’s investigation of Jin-Tae’s shack is proper, edge-of-your seat stuff.
This film also revisits several fave Bong themes. Primarily, the Korean class system, that pampers a small group of privelaged elites, while everyone else is left fighting over a few scraps. The hit and run that kicks off the plot is telling; a wealthy professor nearly kills Do-Joon with his car, and is not only unapologetic but has his assistant tell the police he is ‘too important’ to be investigated. In any case, everyone decides that Do-Joon’s breaking of the car’s wing mirror is a much more significant crime; black comedy at its alarming best.
The officials in this movie are throughly lambasted; the police are lazy, corrupt, and beholden to everyone above them in the social heirarchy (but happy to bully and intimidate anyone below). And the high priced lawyer Do-Joon’s mother turns to for help is a crass and insensitive buffoon, keen to cut an unfair plea deal so he can get to the karaoke bar and party with his fee. It is an unruly and unfeeling system, riddled with irregularities, stacked against anyone without the resources to warp it to their will.
The final section of the movie is the strongest. There have actually been a lot of ‘desperate parent tries to clear child’s name’ stories; it is a perenially popular theme, easy to relate to, and a strong motivation for a central character. But the genius of this movie is that it flips it on its head.
The mother’s investigation, having lead her through a labyrinth towards the real killer, actually reveals her son was guilty after all. She then has no hesititation in killing the only eyewitness to the crime, burning his house down, and letting another simpleton take the blame. The cold blooded audaciousness of this gives you another aspect of the director’s view of human nature, and turns the movie into a circle, linking the unusual opening scene to the finale.
Self interest is, ultimately, the MOST powerful motivator, and while it might leave an ugly aftertaste, you can always just think about something else. The winners write the accepted version of history, and get to go on the party bus.