Review: Madeo (Mother, 2009)


How does one differentiate between a mother’s love and over the line obsession!

Screenplay By: Joon-ho Bong & Eun-kyo Park
Directed By: Joon-ho Bong

The line between protecting your young and foregoing decency is hard for parents to judge. Even in simple situations the desire to provide for your child and make sure they get the best out of life can overwhelm common logic and decency. As I’ve said a few times now, I just returned from a trip to Walt Disney World with my family. While there I witnessed one incident that highlights the way that parents sometimes shut down their cognitive abilities when it comes to the well being of their children. A set of parents almost engaged in a fist fight because of the placement of one of their children during a parade. One specific adult was ready to throw down because he thought his daughter, or son, deserved to be in the front to see the parade. When emotions take the place of common sense for seating during a parade it’s easy to see why parents often cross the line in far more dire situations.

In Madeo the line that is crossed is much larger and much more troubling. A life is lost, others are endangered, beaten up, and harassed all because of a mother’s love. The titular Mother in Madeo is willing to do whatever it takes to protect her son. Her actions throughout the movie are charming, heroic, dumbfounding, scary, and ultimately terrifying. She is playing the role of a parent, and she is playing that role to near perfection. What sets Madeo up as more than a parental protection film is the final moment the camera allows us to see. In that moment Mother chooses not just to protect her son, but to protect herself and to relieve herself of any possible grief associated with her action. Joon-ho Bong sets up that moment perfectly, and when that moment happens I was struck by that layering that went into it and the motion picture as a whole.

Bong-ssi didn’t impress me a ton in the first film I saw from him, Gwoemul. In that film he attempted to meld horror, comedy, thriller, and B movie into one satisfying package. I felt he wasn’t able to do that in a satisfactory fashion. Madeo attempts the same feat, and this time the attempt is a rousing success. I found myself laughing during Madeo, and enthralled by the thriller aspects of the film, as well as caught up in the thematic layering found in the drama. Madeo is a whole film, not a collection of disparate parts, and it felt very clear to me that it was the direction of Bong-ssi that brought all the parts of Madeo together to form such a well made whole.

Of course, Madeo would not work as a movie were it not for the performance of Hye-ja Kim as Mother. Her performance is of a regal nature in a character who should not have any regal bearing. Mother is devoted, headstrong, and a little off kilter. This comes through crystal clear in the performance of Kim-yang. She gives herself to the role in a way that is refreshing. She issn’t afraid to look ugly, awkward, or bewildered when the situation calls for it. The entire cast held their own, but whether it was a dramatic beat, a comedic moment, or a quirky dance, Kim-yang brought the goods every time out.

I was lukewarm on Bong-ssi after one film, but now that I’ve seen Madeo I’m much more interested in seeking out his other work. As dramatic as it is funny, and as haunting as it is touching, Madeo is a terrific film from beginning to end. I’m a little late to the South Korean bandwagon, and I admittedly haven’t seen an over abundance of South Korean films. However, Madeo is one South Korean film that I would definitely recommend any cinephile take the time to watch.





2 responses to “Review: Madeo (Mother, 2009)

  1. Adam Sherlock

    I completely agree. And that last sequence is jaw dropping, not just for the reveal that seems to tie together character motivations and plot points, but the gorgeous way that the camera lingers over every silhouette on the bus, slowly following her through the sunlight. Incredible stuff.

  2. Yes, and haunting as well, that’s the way I would best describe the end sequence. That’s the sort of end to a great movie that sticks with the viewer and won’t let them forget about the movie.

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