Saturday, 24 October 2009
Easily the best film I've seen at the London Film Festival 2009, and certainly one of the best films I've seen this year, if not the best. Bong Joon-Ho's filmmaking is some kind of strangely wonderful mix of Almodovar and Hitchcock, with a bit of Cassavetes, Rossellini, Goddard and Melville thrown in, and Satyajit Ray is in there too. Bong Joon-Ho knows his film history and it shows gloriously throughout his movie. The opening credits alone are genius, and later ingeniously figure back into the narrative. The story is simple: a mother tries to prove her mentally-damaged son innocent of the muder he has been accused of. She is fiftyish, attractive but not beautiful, smart but not educated, worn out by life and worries. She is in just about every frame of the film and thoroughly commands our interest in each one. She is a true diva (played by the very popular veteran Korean actress Kim Hye-Ja). The theme of a mother's iron-strong, complicated, perverse bond to her child is an old one, but such is the filmmaker and the actress's talent that the trope becomes new and compelling all over again. But Bong Joon-Ho is interested in more than Greek tragedy and soon echoes of Medea, the Bacchae, Phaedre reverberate through The Wrong Man to Dirty Harry as the mother becomes a ruthless, lawless, justice-seeker. And only then do the real twists and turns begin. Humor, of course, is ever present, lurking, absent, or causing belly laughs. The rich storytelling is in exquisite dialectic with equally lavish and intense images, and with a sublime sound track. For me the height of filmmaking is when image, word, and sound are each of similar mass and brightness, a constant yet constantly shifting constellation. Antonioni and Almodovar are the masters. Bong Joon-Ho's ambition to join their ranks is a joy.