This post includes a brief plot summary, an explanation about the ending of the film Mother / Madeo (2009) and a character analysis of Do-joon’s mother. Who was the real killer? Beware of spoilers.
Directed by Bong Joon-ho, the 2009 South-korean drama stars Kim Hye-ja as Mother and Won Bin as Yoon Do-joon.
Mother / Madeo (2009) – Plot Summary
An almost hit and run incident prompts Do-joon and Jin-tae to hop on a taxi and chase the driver. They track him at the golf course. First, they vandalize the car. Then, they proceed to attack the driver and the other passengers. The police arrests them. Jin-tae was the one responsible for the damage but Do-joon ends up getting the blame.
One night, a drunk Do-joon follows a high school named Ah-jung into an abandoned building. She disappears and Do-joon walks away. The next day, the same girl appears dead at a rooftop. The police arrests Do-joon based on circumstantial evidence. Then, they coerce Do-joon to sign a confession, he’s convicted and sent to prison.
Do-joon’s mother, the only one that believes in his son’s innocence goes on relentless search for the true killer. She starts researching Ah-jung’s background. During her personal investigation, she hears rumours that Ah-jung was a promiscuous girl, who frequently exchanged sex for rice cakes. Meanwhile, she stops at the prison to visit her son. During the visit, Do-joon confronts his mother. Apparently, she tried to poison him when he was only five. She doesn’t deny it and offers to give him acupuncture to help him forget the pain. He refuses and tells her not to see him again.
One day, Do-joon’s mother goes through some old photos and decides to have a particular one retouched. At a local camera shop, she learns from the owner that Ah-jung used to have frequent nosebleeds. Moreover, she recalls that Ah-jung often came to the shop with a friend. Mother tracks the friend and starts asking for some questions. Meanwhile, the friend disappears. Two boys took her to an alley to intimidate her. They want Ah-jung’s phone. However, a worker stops the boys and threatens them to leave the girl alone.
With the help of Jin-tae, they track the two boys down. He beats them to get some answers about Ah-jung. Apparently, Ah-jung took a picture of everyone that she ever had sex with. Having said that, whoever possessed the phone would now have immense power to blackmail the individuals on that list.
Do-joon remembers seeing an old man at the night of the murder. He appears in Ah-jung’s phone. The man is the junk collector, Do-joon’s mother bought an umbrella from him. This information prompts Do-joon’s mother to go his house, under the pretext of selling him acupuncture services.
The junk collector confesses what he saw during the night of Ah-jung’s murder. The man saw Do-joon throw a giant rock at Ah-jung, which hit her head, killing her at the spot. Then, he witnesses Do-joon dragging her dead body to the rooftop. After learning that the police was going to revisit the case, the man decides to report what he saw that night. In extreme fear and denial, Do-joon’s mother kills the man and burns his house down.
Later on, the police informs Do-joon’s mother that they reopened the case and that they found the real killer: Ah-jung’s rumoured boyfriend “crazy JP”. The police found Ah-jung’s blood stains on his shirt. Do-joon’s mother goes to visit crazy JP and starts crying, she knows that an innocent is going to prison for a crime he did not commit.
Do-joon is released and Jin-tae is there to pick him up. During the ride, they visit the junk collector’s burned house. During dinner with his mother, he said that whoever dragged Ah-jung to the rooftop, did it to alert others to help her.
Right when Do-joon’s mother was about to leave for a trip, Do-joon returns her acupuncture kit (the one she lost in the fire). He tells her to be more careful and she leaves the bus station horrified. On the bus, she performs acupuncture on herself and dances with the other passengers.
Mother / Madeo (2009) – Ending Explained
Who was the real killer? Who killed Ah-jung? Do-joon, the junk collector or crazy JP? In the end, it’s very clear that Do-joon was the real killer. However, he has frequent memory lapses that’s why he didn’t remember.
The junk collector had no reason to lie to Do-joon’s mother because, he didn’t even know who she was. In addition, “crazy” JP was also innocent. The blood stains came from Ah-jung’s nosebleeds. He didn’t rape Ah-jung nor killed her, that’s why Do-joon’s mother was crying. She knew that JP was going to prison for a crime he did not commit.
What does the ending mean? Why did Do-joon’s mother go on a trip? She probably had a heavy conscience: she killed a witness (the junk collector) and let an innocent go to prison. Moreover, she also wanted to get away from her “precious boy”, now that she knows he’s a murderer. After Do-joon’s release from prison, she started to treat him a bit differently, more like a stranger.
During that final bed scene, Do-joon’s mother couldn’t even close her eyes, hinting that she’s somehow afraid of Do-joon. In addition, when Do-joon returns her acupuncture kit, she ran as fast as she could away from him. That’s a very different mother from what we saw in the beginning of the film. In order to forget all the bad memories, she applies acupuncture to herself on the bus and dances with the other passengers.
Do-joon’s Mother – Character Analysis
Do-joon’s mother is a complicated human being. She wants the world to perceive her as a great mother, though she’s not. In the first half of film, the director is telling the story through the mother’s eyes. That’s why (in the beginning) we don’t see Do-joon killing Ah-jung, because she believed that he was innocent.
Throughout the story, we find out why Do-joon is the way he is. When he was five, his mother tried to poison him. She was planning to kill him and then, kill herself. However, the poison wasn’t strong enough. Although not stated in the film, the poisoning probably had an effect on Do-joon’s mental development.
So there’s a reason, why Do-joon’s mother treats him so well. She doesn’t do it out of pity, because he’s mentally disable. No. She pampers him, because it was her who caused his disability. That’s the ugly truth. In addition, Do-joon is not as oblivious as he looks. Though he’s not able to recollect certain memories, he remembers everything. And Do-joon hasn’t forgiven his mother for trying to kill him when he was five years old.
By the way, when she killed the junk collector, she wasn’t trying to protect Do-joon and his image. You see, she wants us to believe that Do-joon is a good boy, that she raised him right. Saying that he’s not, it’s the same as saying that she was a bad mother (he’s like an extension of her).
Basically, Do-joon’s mother is not very good at owning her mistakes. When life got hard, she tried to kill his son. In addition, she tried to block his memories through acupuncture. When the junk collector was about to call the police to report Do-joon as the killer, she kills him. On top of that, she rather let an innocent go to prison, than acknowledging that her son was the real killer. You see, she’s not a very good parent.
Oh, in order to forget everything, what does she do? She goes on a trip to forget all her bad memories. That’s why she never learns.
Mother / Madeo is a sad story, told in a very funny way. Moreover, the film plays a lot with our own personal biases. Because Do-joon is mentally disable, as viewers, we don’t want to believe that he’s the one that killed Ah-jung. In a certain, we are all like “Mother”. Even when the junk collector tells us straight to the face, what happened during that fateful night, we still don’t want to believe him. Why? Because he’s not as innocent looking as Do-joon. Superficial? Yes, but also primal.
What about Ah-jung? Did she deserve to die? Of course not, but she shouldn’t have called Do-joon a “retard”. Apparently, that’s the word that triggers something really nasty in Do-joon. Once again as viewers, we are completely blind-sided by Ah-jung’ past. Not in a million years, we would have guessed that this seemly innocent high school girl had such a promiscuous past. Almost everybody in town was taking advantage of her. So who has a more sobby story: Ah-jung or Do-joon? Maybe, Ah-jung. She had nobody to take care of her, unlike Do-joon.
Now, let’s talk about Do-joon’s mother. She starts as a poor lady on a relentless search to find the killer behind a young girl’s murder, then she spirals into a crazy lady that’s trying to kill everyone that knows the real truth. She definitely has one the best character arcs in the story.
The whole story really explores personal biases and hidden desires. For instance, we see Do-joon as an asexual human being, mostly because of his mental disability. However, he’s a man too, with desires and all. That’s why he was stalking Ah-jung during that fateful night.
Overall, Mother is storytelling at its best. The director really flipped the script with that major plot twist. He really fooled the audience, but in a good way.