The weird thing about Bong Joon-ho’s Mother is that Bong keeps the thing back from burlesque exactly by going too far: a mother-loving idiot touching his mom’s breast as they curl up together at night, or her bloody attack on a man who insults her son carrying caricatures realistically to their logical conclusions. Danny Kasman has described Bong as “a glossier Imamura,” and that seems right: only scamps, scalliwags, and ragamuffins populate their movies, as idiots hungry for food, sex, and blood, like medieval allegories of appetites, or Fellini’s hicks let loose in the city with none of Fellini’s affection on them. The Host turns sentimental, but even there the transition only works because of the underlying hint that these people struggle to maintain their family for the sole purpose of staying alive; Mother, meanwhile, abandons comedy and an entire plot about 20 minutes in to follow the incestuous mom ready to kill to prove her son’s not a killer (but, she tells him, “you and I are the same”—though he’s the only character dumb enough not to know what a dumbass he is).
A series of many more pointless digressions, pointless insert shots, and misleading developments follow as the mom plays detective to solve a murder to no avail. If Bong’s too commercial for any of Imamura’s coups of sound or light or cutting—Bong identifies memories and fantasies as fantasies where Imamura just cuts them in as part of the plot—the movie’s totally mad anyway: as in Kafka, the main character sees everyone in the world as a lunatic, and is both right and a lunatic herself. There’s no steady center; Mother’s as every bit destabilized as its title character. The last, flickering shot, as a murderer joins a party bus, simply shows an imbecile reconciled to a carnival of imbeciles, another Bong ship of fools.