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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags are used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.
For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for Mother can be found here.
A doting mother (Hye-ja Kim) of a mentally-challenged young man is devastated when son Yoon Do-joon (Bin Won) is arrested for the murder of a young girl, Moon Ah-jung (Hee-ra Mun), and tricked into signing a confession. Certain that her son is innocent, Mother begins her own investigation into Ah-Jung's background and the events that happened on the night of the murder.
Mother was filmed from a screenplay co-written by South Korean screenwriters Park Eun-kyo and Bong Joon-ho (who also directed the movie).
Mother worked as an herbalist in a store and performed illegal acupuncture treatments (she was not licensed) on the side. Her employer wanted Mother to lie to customers about the inferior quality herbs they imported from China. To force Mother into compliance, the employer reminded her of how her illegal acupuncture practice would reflect upon the business and upon her husband, some high-ranking official.
"Deodeok root" is the root of the Codonopsis lanceolata plant, known in English as "bonnet bellflower." It is a popular ingredient in Korean cooking and can be found in various dishes, such as kimchi, vegetable salads, pancakes, etc. "Gugija" (Lycium species) is known under several English names, such as "Chinese matrimony vine", "wolfberries", and "goji berries." The red berries often make their way into soups, salads, and herbal teas. Mother contends that it's good for Do-joon's virility.
Ah-jung's two boyfriends explain that she took photos with her "pervert" phone of everyone with whom she had sex, so it's reasonable to conclude that the junkman was one of her customers. This is best evidenced in the scene where the junkman explains how he came to be in the abandoned house. He is seen spreading a mat on the floor and measuring out the rice with which he intends to pay Ah-jung (aka "Rice Cake Girl").
One of Ah-jung's girlfriends had the skill to silence the sound of a cellphone when it took photos. Ah-jung used it to take photos of her sex partners.
Several explanations have been offered, including that she was a single mother and very poor, but the most generally-accepted explanation is that Mother couldn't bear to live with Do-joon's retardation so she decided to take both of their lives. She chose to use an insecticide called Lone Star, but it was too weak and only made them sick for two days. Some viewers have entertained the possibility that it was the poison that actually caused Do-joon's brain damage. Since the film does not offer an explanation, it's up to each viewer to decide which scenario makes the most sense to them.
Mother finally obtains Ah-jung's cellphone from Ah-jung's Granny (Gin-goo Kim). She takes it to the prison to show the photos to Do-joon who remembers seeing the junkman at the abandoned house where Ah-jung was killed. Mother recognizes him as the man from whom she bought the umbrella and goes out to see him. Posing as a volunteer worker for Hyeminwon, an organization that provides free medical checks for elderly people living alone, she gets the junkman talking about what he saw the night Ah-jung was killed. He describes how Ah-jung was being followed by a boy who accused her of not liking boys, so Ah-jung tossed a heavy rock at him. When Ah-jung calls the boy a "stupid retard", the boy threw the rock back at Ah-jung, hitting her in the head and killing her. The boy then carried the body to the roof and left it hanging over the ledge. Mother realizes that he's talking about her son and informs him that the police are going to re-open the investigation and release Do-joon in a few days. When the junkman describes how the boy did this weird thing with his thumbs on his temples and starts to phone the police about what he saw, Mother repeatedly hits him in the head with a large pipe wrench and burns down the house to cover the murder. Days later, Inspector Je-mun (Je-mun Yun) informs Mother that they have caught the killer, Crazy JP escaped from the sanitarium, and that they are going to release Do-joon because they found blood on JP's shirt that matched that of Ah-jung. JP has denied that he killed Ah-jung, claiming that she got a nosebleed on his shirt. Mother requests to meet JP and finds that he is a Down's Syndrome child. When she finds out that JP has no mother (to fight for him), she breaks down and cries. Do-joon is released from prison. On his way back, he meets Jin-tae in his new car and learns that the junk dealer's place burned down. Picking through the rubble, Do-joon finds Mother's acupuncture needle case. He later informs Mother that he thinks JP might have put Ah-jung's body on the roof so that someone would find her and get medical help for her, because she was bleeding. In the final scenes, Mother is going off on a "Thank You Parents" bus tour. Do-joon buys her some food to eat and returns her partially-burned acupuncture box. "How could you leave this lying around?" he asks Mother. Mother then hurriedly boards the bus. While the rest of the passengers dance in the aisle of the bus, Mother runs an acupuncture needle into her thigh and then starts to dance.
Dancing in the aisles of tour buses was commonly seen on Korean tour buses up to a few years ago. Now. with stricter rules and sharper fines, it's not as common anymore.
Several times during the film, Mother says that she knows of an acupuncture point on the thigh. She calls it "a meridian point that can loosen the knots in your heart and clear all the horrible memories from your mind." She did it to herself to erase the memories of her attempts to kill herself and Do-joon when he was young, her murder of the junkman, and her son's involvement in the killing of Ah-jung.
The film does not provide a definitive answer, leaving the audience to ponder four possibilities: (1) Jin-tae (Goo Jin), (2) the junkman, (3) Do-joon, and (4) Crazy JP from the sanitarium. Jin-tae is ruled out early in the movie. The majority of viewers conclude that the junkman's version of the murder is the truthful one. This is actually evidenced when the police make Do-joon demonstrate the events using a dummy, and he clearly shows them how Ah-jung's head was hit with a rock and her body carried to the roof and placed over the ledge for someone to notice it and get medical attention. In the end, it is Ah-jung's blood on Crazy JP's shirt that the police find most suspicious.
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