Blu-ray
Must Own
4.5 stars
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$16.98
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Overall Grade
4.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
5 Stars
HD Video Quality
4.5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4.5 Stars
Supplements
4.5 Stars
High-Def Extras
2 Stars
Bottom Line
Must Own

Mother

Street Date:
July 20th, 2010
Reviewed by:
Drew Taylor
Review Date: 1
July 28th, 2010
Movie Release Year:
2009
Studio:
Magnolia
Length:
128 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Unrated
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

Talk about feeling out of step with my critical brethren: on the same day that 'Mother' screened as part of the New York Film Festival last year, another movie ran right after. After 'Mother,' the crowd was mostly silent, but I had to pick my jaw up off the floor (it was sticky and coated in a weird resin - my jaw, not the floor). Out in the lobby, where we had to chill in-between movies, I was like "WHOA!" And my fellow critics gave the seesawing hand of indifference (one which I've been known to break out from time to time here). Then the second movie screened, which I thought was more or less amateur hour in Dixie, even though it had a strong emotional core and some fine performances. After the second movie the director joined us, and people were tripping over themselves with praise. I thought to myself: didn't you guys just see 'Mother?'

The second movie was 'Precious.'

But 'Mother!' 'Mother' is the masterpiece. Directed by Bong Joon-ho, who had previously helmed the genius small town police procedural 'Memories of Murder' and monster movie 'The Host,' the film is a twisted and unique take on the detective story, and a kind of inverse of Alfred Hitchcock's 'Psycho.' (That's if you want a box art-ready pull quote-y quote.

The film takes place in a small South Korean town. Do-joon (Won Bin) is a man in his late twenties but is slow (mentally). He lives alone with his mother, Hye-ja (Kim Hye-ja), and there are some suggestions that their relationship is incestuous, but Joon-ho, the cinematic trickster, never explicitly states anything. When a young girl is murdered, the local police finger Do-joon as the killer. And so, naturally, Hye-ja, a woman pushing senior citizen status, decides to clear her son's name. So the movie is a detective story, except instead of an urban setting it's a small South Korean town and instead of a grizzled detective, it's an elderly woman.

If you aren't sold yet, then there may not be hope for you.

The way the story unfolds is just brilliant, and far too juicy to ruin here, and Joon-ho, who is as much a genre prankster as he is a wonderful painter of human relationships, renders the bond between mother and son beautifully. Yes, it's creepy and weird, but in such a skilled filmmaker's hands it's also quite touching. When I spoke to Bong Joon-ho earlier this year, around the time of the film's theatrical release, he said that he made the movie specifically for Kim Hye-ja. She had played many mothers in Korean film and television, in warm, loving roles, and he wanted to play with her image, and take her to a darker, deeper place. He definitely succeeded.

'Mother,' like all great genre movies, plays with the hallmarks of the form. Besides the detective being played by an elderly woman, there are some really great flashes of gallows humor and there's an unlikely alliance formed between Hye-ja and a young hood (Jin Goo) who is friends with the incarcerated Do-joon. (He helps. For a price.)

And just as beautifully as the story is told, it's also shot with an impeccable eye. Seriously, this thing is just astounding looking. From a wonderful shot of Hye-ja tromping through the rain with a pivotal piece of evidence covered in plastic, to the fairly innocuous activity of retrieving golf balls from a local putting green, everything is just gorgeous. If only American movies this small could look this good. Instead, small budgeted American films are too often defined by their low grade look; crummy cinematography worn as a badge of honor.

If you haven't figured it out yet, I loved 'Mother.' It was my favorite movie at NYFF last year and probably my favorite movie to be released theatrically this year. It's just flat-out brilliant; a funny, thrilling, touching, unique crime story and one that stays with you long after the lights come up in the theater (or the Blu-ray disc stops spinning).

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

The 50GB Blu-ray disc from Magnolia is Region "A" locked and BD-Live ready (although at the time of this writing there are no BD-Live features up yet). That's about all there is to talk about. Oh, except that there's a great movie on the disc! But I guess I already talked about that.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

This 1080p AVC MPEG-4 transfer (aspect ratio: 2.35:1) is really stunning.

Where it counts, it's all there: nice contrast; good skin tones; deep, dark blacks; with a nice layer of grain that creates a truly cinematic feel. There are also no buggy technical issues or evidence of that pesky Digital Noise Reduction.

But where this transfer really succeeds is in capturing the earthiness of Joon-ho's film (and Hong Kyung-pyo's cinematography). Even though the movie becomes very dark and scary at times, there's this kind of earthen warmth that the movie exudes, possibly as an extension of the mother/son relationship metaphor. Grain fields bristle in the wind, a stream of urine trickles like a babbling brook, and the final shot - good lord the final shot - will leave you absolutely breathless and full of hope.

I was worried that this transfer might fall short, and some online have claimed that it's slightly different than the South Korean Region-free Blu-ray, but I was impressed, dare I say amazed, by Magnolia's domestic release.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Equally impressive is the Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix. From the film's gorgeous opening shot of the mother standing in the middle of the field, a Spanish guitar slowly filling the soundtrack, you will know the power of this mix. It's not exactly going to wake up the neighbors, but it is a finely calibrated, wonderful mix none-the-less.

The movie is a mostly quiet one, with a lovely little score by Lee Byung-woo which twinkles in and out and sounds great here. There are some really great sound effects, though, that sound just dynamite here, like when mother chops this wheat-like herb, or when mother and son have a dinner of chicken, these sound effects are just beautifully realized. And the sound effect of the actual murder? Oof. You hear that one in your chest.

It's the perfect case of subtle atmospherics that make good use of the surround channels and effects that pop at just the right moment without ever being too loud or obtrusive. The dialogue is always crisp and clear, not that you'll know what they're saying, unless you speak Korean. Subtitles are provided, within the frame, in English, English SDH, and Spanish.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

The voluminous extras presented here are ported over from the South Korean release, except this time with subtitles! Yay! (And thank you Internet!) There are also a couple of features that are on the Blu-ray that aren't on the DVD, but both have the wonderful, feature-length behind-the-scenes documentary, so fret not.

  • Making of 'Mother' (SD, 1 hour and 30 minutes) Under the fairly innocuous name comes one of the most comprehensive and spellbinding behind-the-scenes documentaries I have seen in quite some time. Once you realize that you're going to be there for a long time, you ease into this nook-and-cranny peek at the making of this wonderful film. This is a must-watch.
  • Music Score (SD, 15:19) This is a nice little look at Lee Byung-woo, which adds to the gentle surrealism that the movie toys with. Honestly, any of these individual features are kind of redundant in the face of the giant documentary, but hey.
  • Supporting Actors (SD, 14:33) Again, a brief featurette about the supporting players in 'Mother.' It's pretty good, but like I said, if you watch the jumbo documentary, these are all pretty beside-the-point.
  • Cinematography (SD, 9:12) Same thing: interesting, thoughtful, if you're not going to invest the time in the behind-the-scenes documentary, this will do a great job in educating you about the movie's wonderful cinematography. But those of us hard enough to watch the entire shebang, there's not much here.
  • Production Design (SD, 11:48) Not to sound redundant, but if you watched the big documentary, then this is pretty redundant. If you didn't watch it, then this is a fine little doc.
  • Trailers There are two trailers here, marked International Trailer 1 (SD, 1:15) and International Trailer 2 (SD, 1:39). They are a little too opaque and easily the most skippable thing on the disc.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

Although not advertised as such, there are a couple of extras on this disc that aren't on the concurrent DVD release. The disc is also BD-Live equipped, but as of this writing were no additional features available. One thing that would have been aces had Magnolia decided to include it would be Bong Joon-ho's first feature, the dark comedy 'Barking Dogs Never Bite.' The studio is putting it out on DVD and it would have been a real treat if they had utilized the extra storage space to throw that baby on here. I'm sure hardcore Bong Joon-ho fans like myself would have gone berserk, even if it was in standard definition.

  • A Look at the Actress Hye-Ja (SD, 9:23) This is just what it says it is: a look at the actress that inspired Bong Joon-ho to do 'Mother.' This is a really nice feature and well worth your time.
  • Behind the Scenes (SD, 6:51) At less than seven minutes, this is entirely unnecessary even if you didn't watch the big long documentary. Skip.

Final Thoughts

'Mother' is a masterpiece. Plain and simple. It's one of the most finely nuanced, emotionally acute, and thrilling mysteries in recent memory. Filled with fine performances and beautiful cinematography, it's a movie that will very literally haunt you long after the movie is over. I cannot recommend this movie enough. And this Blu-ray disc, with superb audio and video and great special features anchored by a feature-length documentary, is equally out-of-this-world. They could have dropped the ball with the high def presentation of this great movie but thankfully, they didn't. This is a must-own disc, all the way.

Technical Specs

  • 50GB Blu-ray Disc
  • BD-Live
  • Region A

Video Resolution/Codec

  • Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
  • Video resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Audio Formats

  • Korean: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Subtitles/Captions

  • English
  • English SDH
  • Spanish

Supplements

  • Making of Mother
  • The Music
  • Cast interviews
  • Cinematographer interview
  • Production design

Exclusive HD Content

  • A look at actress Hye-ja Kim
  • Behind the scenes

All disc reviews at High-Def Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about our gear.

Puzzled by the technical jargon in our reviews, or wondering how we assess and rate HD DVD and Blu-ray discs? Learn about our review methodology.

List Price
$16.98
Amazon
$12.99 (23%)
3rd Party
$11.76
Usually ships in 24 hours Buy Now»