It's no secret that we're more or less over the moon for the forthcoming South Korean crime film "Mother" (it's on our 2010 Most Anticipated: 30 Films We've Already Seen list). Directed by Bong Joon-Ho ("Memories of Murder"), it's an intensely-wound, psychologically insightful mystery that also delivers some expert, edge-of-your-seat thrills, plus wickedly dark laughs. Would you expect anything less from the director of superb monster movie/family drama "The Host?" We were also lucky enough to recently catch the auteur's little-seen debut film, "Barking Dogs Never Bite," at the Brooklyn Academy Museum's retrospective of the director's work last weekend. Not available on DVD currently, 'Barking Dogs' is an entertaining piece of work that demonstrates his signature aptitude for finding humor in the twisted and absurd.
Four films down the road however, Bong Joon-Ho has mastered his various techniques and style with his sprawling murder-procedural "Mother" which centers on a naive, border-line retarded young adult (Won Bin) who is jailed for a murder he didn't commit. The young man is the raison d’être of his mother (a terrific Kim Hye-ja) who goes to impossible, unimaginable lengths to prove his innocence. We're all very excited that this movie is finally coming out on March 12th. You have no excuse to miss it, other than the fact that it will initially be released in a limited scope. But if and when it comes to your city, it's a must-see picture. We spoke to the director earlier this week.
Hitchcock seems to be a big influence in your films. Was "Psycho" a particular influence on "Mother?"
In writing the script and preparing for the film, Hitchcock wasn't a direct influence per se. But of course like many directors before me I like his films and watched his films when I was younger. And while there wasn't a conscious tapping into his sensibilities, I did watch "Psycho" a few times during pre-production for the film. And that relationship that the man has with his dead mother was interesting because there was still some kind of psychosis in that relationship as well.
Family is extremely important in all your films.
I think the subject matter of family is more apparent in "The Host" than in "Mother." But it's not that I especially wanted to emphasize that aspect for sentimental reasons. But specifically in "Mother" I wanted to show the relationship between a son and a mom, the tie that binds them and some kind of hysterical relationship that exists between those two essential figures. And it wasn't that I wanted to focus so much on mom but on that relationship in this film.
Your films work with seemingly disparate moods. How do you balance tone?
Tone is really natural to me. It's almost like breathing air. I can't recall whether or not I've put a certain scene in or not. Even something like a slapstick scene I think it goes in my films because I regard them as real and possible moments. I regard them that way and I shoot them that way and that's how I see those comic elements in real life. It's not that I was trying to calculate a laugh or some kind of humorous response from the audience. It's because I encounter those moments in real life as well.
You've worked in genre primarily. Have you ever wanted to say, "I'm going to do a straight drama" or something? What appeals to you in working in genre films?
I simply like genre films and the conventions that come with it. Whatever genre or framework I encounter I am also more concerned with breaking out of them and doing something different with them in my films. "The Host," for example, breaks the genre conventions of the typical monster movies. I think there's something very Korean about "Memories of Murder." Even "Mother" in this film, portrays a very strange look at crime movies. What I try to do is something a little more distinct than the genres that I'm used to and approach them and remake them as well and that's the approach I'm more into and concerned with.
Is there a genre you're dying to try out. or possibly a re-make of some kind?
I like films that are new stories [so] I don't think I'm interested in making remakes or sequels and while although it's not going to be my next film, I am interested in coming up with a new, fresh horror movie. I think the horror genre is a very good example of showcasing a director as a technician, in terms of the technical aspects. And I don't want to do another monster movie or a thriller but a very specifically horror film. A film that is very, very scary. That's the kind of thing that I want to try.
Have you ever been wooed by Hollywood?
After "The Host" came out there were a lot of inquiries and suggestions from Hollywood through my agency. But I haven't found something that's excited me so much yet. The Korean system of making films is very different from Hollywood. Because in Korea a director is almost always given 100% control and I have the final cut decision. And as I understand it, it's not as easy to have that kind of control. So I don't think I'll be eager to pursue a project in that place.
I was wondering if you saw "Zodiac," which is the closest thing we have in the U.S. to "Memories of Murder," at least recently.
I did watch the film, I did enjoy it and I had a lot of fun with it. In fact, I have two versions of the DVD. I had a chance to meet with Jake Gyllenhaal about two years ago and I really enjoyed having lunch with him. It was a short meeting but I really enjoyed Jake. And when I was staying in San Francisco for about a month or so I really wanted to go to the locations in the film and that's how much I really enjoyed it. It was one of the best films I saw that year.
I just wanted to ask about the beginning and the end of "Mother" and the little almost musical numbers. Where did those come from?
The music director for "Mother" (and my previous film, "The Host"), before he became a music director for films, was a very well known guitarist. And there's a guitar section in the score of the film and he played that himself. The music in those sequences have a bit of a Latin taste to it and besides that, there's a flavor called "Old Jap" which is very Korean, very Eastern Asian, kind of taste and music sensibilities. And the scene at the beginning was first shot and then the music director came up with an original piece to match what we had on film.
For more on his next film, "Snow Piercers," read our earlier condensed interview with the director, specifically on that project. Here's the trailer for "Mother" in case you missed it.