(director/writer: Bong Joon-Ho; screenwriters: Eun-kyo Park/based on a story by Mr. Bong; cinematographer: Hong Kyung-pyo; editor: Moon Sae-kyoung; music: Lee Byeong-woo; cast: Kim Hye-ja (Mother), Won Bin (Yoon Do-joon), Jin Goo (Jin-tae), Yoon Jae-moon (Je-mun), Jun Mi-sun (Mi-sun), Song Sae-beauk (Sepaktakraw Detective), Moon Hee-ra (Moon Ah-jung), Young-Suck Lee (Ragman); Runtime: 129; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Moon Yang-kwon/Seo Woo-sik/Park Tae-joon; Magnolia; 2009-South Korea-in Korean with English subtitles)

An oddball sinister murder mystery that’s much more than that.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Korean director-writer Bong Joon-Ho (“Memories of Murder”/”The Host”/”Barking Dogs Never Bite“)shoots an oddball sinister murder mystery that’s much more than that, as it brilliantly morphs intofilm noir, social commentary on the patriarchal establishment, black comedy, incest, a mother’s unconditional love for her retarded son, a satire on modern technology, police incompetency and sundry other things. It’s based on a story by Mr. Bongand co-written by him andEun-kyo Park.

The titular mother (Kim Hye-Ja, South Korean TV icon) works as an unlicensed acupuncturist and runs an apothecary in a rural small town, and lives in a cramped space in back of the store. She’s the devoted single parent caretaker of Do-joon (Bin Won),a handsome, sensitive, mentally challenged 27-year-old who as the village idiot is constantly teased but has been taught to physically fight back, is a klutz, has a problem remembering even the most recent things and still sleeps with mom. After getting slightly injured in a hit-and-run incident by a professor driving a speeding Mercedes Benzand then giving chase with his only friend, an idler named Jin-Tae (Jin Goo), they finally locate the culprit at a golf course and get into a fight with the passengers that results in an appearance at the police station. At the police station the dim-witted foil is ordered to pay for damage to the side-view mirror of the Benz when he is unable to remember that it was his friend who had caused the damage. In the meantime, justice takes a strange twist as the upper-class professor gets off scot-free since he was attacked.

The haplessDo-joon goes drinking one night at the Manhattan bar and while going home by an abandoned hillside house, he follows a promiscuous teenage girl, Moon Ah-jung (Moon Hee-ra),and fails to entice her.When she’s discovered murdered there and herbody is strewn over the roof, the police find evidence that Do-joon was at the crime scene and charge him with murder. With no lawyer present, Do-joon is easily duped into signing a confession. When the indifferent police are just anxious to close the case and fail to investigate obvious leads and the big-time shyster lawyer mom hires just wants to accept a plea bargain to get her son a lenient 4-year-sentence, mom fires the disinterested lawyer and with the thuggish help of the mercenaryJin-Tae makes inroads into solving the case–which opens up local secrets over sexual trysts and the loss of innocence among the town youths.

Mom’s investigation leads to a few more twists, as the crazed mom, willing to go to any length to make sure her son is let go, gets sucked into a dark netherworld she can’t get out of and the perilous situation gets even more dire and things become unpredictable.When repressed memories from Do-joon’s childhood are jarred loose, the film moves into Psycho-like turfas Bong navigates it along a mad course that one recalls in Hitchcock’s more suspenseful films.

The weird psychological melodrama that veers between slapstick comedy and tragedy, was well-received at the 2009 New York Film Festival. It lets us know that there’s some curious pictures coming out of modern South Korea that deserve recognition.