Interview: From Norman Bates to ‘Mother’ With Director Bong Joon-ho

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CHICAGO – The masterful young director of “Memories of Murder” and “The Host,” two of the best films of the ’00s, has done it again with the incredible thriller “Mother,” opening in Chicago tomorrow, March 26th, 2010. He recently called over to discuss his new film and its inspirations, along with upcoming work with “Thirst” director Park Chan-wook and even a sequel to “The Host”.

The title character in “Mother” is played by an icon in Bong’s home country, the fantastic Kim Hye-ja. Kim plays a woman who’s mentally handicapped son is accused of murder and the film tracks her search for the answers that will set him free. Twisting and turning, the film is a brilliant examination of the crucial ties of family and the way they can be as damaging as they are healing.

Bong Joon-ho on the set of Mother
Bong Joon-ho on the set of Mother
Photo credit: Magnolia Pictures

Family is a theme that Bong has explored before in the excellent montser movie “The Host,” but he does so in his own unique way. As he says, “My films revolve around families but unlike typical filmmakers, I’m not so much of a fan of portraying “always sticking together” or happy endings. I just think that out of all the human relationships, family is the most basic and most instinctual. I really wanted to portray how those simple relationships play out in complicated ways.”

Kim Hye-ja in Mother
Photo credit: Magnolia Pictures

The exploration of family was only one of several themes that inspired "Mother". The film really came from something he saw in the legendary Kim, an actress compared to Doris Day in her home country.

"The leading actress in Mother - Kim Hye-ja - is the iconic mother in Korean film," says Bong Joon-ho. "She really is a symbolic figure. To make a film around her was one of the inspirations for Mother. I was most inspired by Kim Hye-ja in making this film. She's been an actress in Korea for over forty years. She is usually kind, warm-hearted and the "mother of all mothers" but I sensed a bit of darkness to her and wanted to portray that - to bring that darkness to the surface."

Bong Joon-ho also watched Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" for a reference point while making "Mother," noting that he "wondered what the relationship between Norman and his mother had been like before she died" in the timeless thriller.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a stupid and outdated rule in which each country can only submit one film for consideration for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. In 2009, Korea chose "Mother," much to the surprise of the many fans of Chan-wook Park's "Thirst," a very highly acclaimed vampire film from the director of "Oldboy" and "Lady Vengeance".

Kim Hye-ja in Mother
Photo credit: Magnolia Pictures

Bong dismisses any suggestion that he may feel a little international rivalry with Park, noting that they're not quite in the same generation as Park debuted a decade earlier and revealing that the two are working together on an adaptation of a French graphic novel with Bong directing a Park production.

"My next film is based on a French sci-fi graphic novel and the working title is Snow Piercer," he reveals. "Basically, the plot is that there's a new ice age and all human beings are dead, the Earth is frozen, the only survivors are the passengers who are on this train that's still running and the remaining survivors end will be a major heated battle among the survivors on the train."

A few years ago Universal bought the remake rights to Bong Joon-ho's beloved "The Host" and, accoriding to Bong, have already assembled a producer, director, and screenwriter, but the man who made the original will have nothing to do with it. "Also, there is a sequel - The Host 2 - in South Korea. I don't care. I have nothing to do with it. I have many new ideas and new stories that I hope to make. I'm not so curious about any kind of sequel or remake."

Recent favorites of Bong Joon-ho include Joel & Ethan Coen's "No Country For Old Men" and David Fincher's "Zodiac," a film that the director agrees reminded him a bit of "Memories of Murder". "[Zodiac] is very, very beautiful. Also, I know the actual Zodiac case quite well because I researched many cases when I was writing Memories of Murder. I think that helped me really enjoy the movie.

"Mother" opens in Chicago tomorrow, March 26th, 2010. Don't miss it.

‘Mother’ stars Kim Hye-ja, Weon Bin, and Jin Gu. It was written by Park Eun-guo fron a story by Bong Joon-ho and directed by Bong. It opens in Chicago on March 26th, 2010. It is rated R. content director Brian Tallerico

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