South Korean independent film “Mom’s Song” tries to present and then develop its heroine no less than three times, and that is alternatively intriguing and frustrating. While there is some satisfaction from how it comes to focus more on the personality and humanity of its heroine step by step, what we get in the end still feels like the mere beginning of whatever could be told next, and I was also quite distracted by something unnecessary at the end of the film, which does not fit at all with what has been so caringly developed during most of its running time.
The first part of the movie is more or less than the extension of one simple circumstance between a lad named Dong-min (Sin Jeong-ung) and his divorced mother Hye-jung (Kim Hye-jung). When his mother suddenly calls him for a trivial domestic matter at one night, Dong-min, who has been living alone as studying in some college, is understandably annoyed, but he comes to a little shabby place where his mother lives alone, and she is glad to see her dear son again.
As she and Dong-min talk a bit with each other, we come to gather some background information on their family history. Despite many years between them, his father eventually walked away from Hye-jung and then recently married some other woman, and Hye-jung is still not so pleased about that although she has been busy with running a small karaoke shop for herself. We later see her taking Dong-min to her karaoke shop for getting some help from him, and then we get a little emotional moment when she does an impromptu singing in front of her bewildered son.
While spending more time with his mother, Dong-min comes to care a bit more about his mother than before, and there is a plain but warm moment when he willingly writes a letter to his younger brother as dictated by his mother. Although this moment does not last long, what is directly presented to us in the next scene implies that Dong-min and his mother becomes a bit closer to each other even though nothing much is changed in their relationship.
During its second part, the movie attempts a different variation of its heroine, who is incidentally played by Noh Yoon-jung instead. This time, Hye-jung is with Dong-min from the beginning, and they are in a hospital where his younger brother has stayed due to some unspecified injury. When we later see him being with Dong-min, he looks good enough to leave the hospital and Dong-min seems to be glad about that although he remains rather introverted as before.
Meanwhile, we also get a very awkward moment between Hye-jung and her ex-husband, who happens to come to the hospital along with his new wife for seeing his younger son. It has been several years since they had a divorce, but Hye-jung still feels bitter about their divorce, and her ex-husband does not have much to say except looking apologetic.
After that, the movie adds more things to be observed. There is a brief odd moment unfolded at a local Buddhist temple, and then we get a scene which looks like the modified version of one key scene of the first part. Again, Hye-jung suddenly calls her son at one night, but she is quite drunk at a local karaoke bar in this version, and Dong-min quickly goes there for taking her back to their residence, though he has to wait a bit as listening to her rambling on her difficult status of life. Before they eventually go back to their residence, Hye-jung sings a song, and this certainly resonates with a similar moment in the first part.
In contrast to the previous two parts, the third part of the movie is told mainly via the viewpoint of Hye-jung, who is played by Kim Hye-jung again. The scene between her and her doctor implies that she has had a serious kind of illness, but she cannot quit her current job right now as barely making ends meets everyday, and the only comfort at her workplace comes from a close colleague of hers. When we later see her having a private conversation with a sibling of hers, they come to talk about her life with her ex-husband, and, again, we come to sense some bitterness from her.
While I like this part better than the other two parts as it shows more care and attention to its heroine, director/writer Shin Dong-min inexplicably adds a personal footnote which feels rather jarring considering what we has observed from the film. Sure, the story has lots of personal elements as reflected by a number of notable personal stuffs in the film including an old video footage clip, and I understand that Shin really felt the need to do that little act of remembrance, but that is too distracting as clashing with the main purpose of his movie.
Anyway, the movie is still fairly engaging thanks to Shin’s competent direction, and his small cast members are solid in their plain but believable acting. Kim Hye-jung, who is actually Shin’s real-life mother, and Noh Yoon-jung are connected well with each other despite the considerable difference in their appearances in the film, and Sin Jeong-ung humbly complements his two different co-stars without overshadowing them at all.
Overall, “Mom’s Song” does not satisfy me enough due to its several notable weak aspects, but Shin makes a decent feature film debut here at least. As I reflect more on what I observed from his movie, I am more convinced that there are the glimpses of a more interesting story here and there in the film, and I sincerely hope that he may give us that better tale someday.