[Welcome to Duty Free Movies, a new little corner of Cinematical where we'll be highlighting quality import discs from around the world. Given my bend for horror, sci-fi, and Asian movies, a good number of imports on my shelf fall under that realm, but I'll do my best to spread the love around to other genres as well.]
Mother, the latest film from Joon-ho Bong (The Host, Memories of Murder), will get a limited theatrical run in the US starting March 12. That's great news for fans of the South Korean filmmaker, for Mother is definitely worth seeing on the big screen; if you happen to live in a major city like New York, L.A. or Chicago, that is. For those who are normally left in the lurch on limited releases, however, your best bet is to go ahead and import the Korean Blu-ray.
As with The Good, the Bad, the Weird (and hopefully all entries in Duty Free Movies), CJ Entertainment's disc is Region A, so it should play problem free in any US Blu-ray player. However, unlike TGBTW, this disc isn't part of CJ Ent's limited collector's edition lineup, so the packaging isn't quite as extravagant. There are no physical extras beyond the disc and its case (again made of nicer, firmer materials than most Criterion BDs here in the States), but that doesn't matter much considering the disc has a number of supplements of its own. Plus the movie is just fantastic; easily the best thriller of 2009.
If you haven't been following it since its bow at last year's Cannes Film Festival, Bong's latest is the story of a mother whose mentally handicapped son is accused of rape and murder. Her maternal instincts (and questionably intimate relationship with him) tell her the boy did nothing wrong, but the police are hellbent on pinning the murder on him so the seemingly helpless old lady begins an investigation of her own into what really happened that night. Now I realize that quick description may sound mundane, in which case I direct you toward Magnolia's excellent trailer for their US release.
As you can see, it's a far side darker than the Mom's Detective Agency premise reads and it's packed with the stunning cinematography that has always been a staple of Bong's work. The image quality on the Blu-ray doesn't quite pop the same way CJ Ent's Memories of Murder Blu-ray does, though I'd wager that has more to do with Bong's color palette this time around than the quality of the transfer. Still his moody vision is accompanied by a 5.1 DTS HD Master track that really lets the amazing score sing in all the right places. Plus it's rare that a menu strikes me these days, but Mother's, which is basically the opening shot of the film, is just hypnotic.
The disc has a commendable number of special features, including audio commentary, deleted scenes and more, but unless you speak Korean, the lack of subtitles render this kind of pointless for an English speaker (which typical of most Asian discs). However, there is a photo gallery of both behind-the-scenes and in-movie stills set to the film's score that's rather pleasant to pop on, as well as a featurette on the recording of the score that doesn't particularly require any Korean to appreciate (though it wouldn't hurt at times).
Is it worth a blind buy for fans of Asian cinema? I think so. Had I made a Top 10 list of '09, Mother would have certainly made the cut. I'm endlessly fascinated by how he portrays the blue collar lives of one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world and to that end Mother is right up there with Memories of Murder. It's not quite as entertaining as The Host or as thoughtful as Memories of Murder, but a third place film from Joon-ho Bong is still leagues better than the best films most filmmakers have to offer.
You can pick it up from YesAsia for $35.99 (which will easily let you meet the free international shipping if you pick up another title) or for $31.99 from K2DVD.