Updated: Jul 2
Mother is about so much more than abuse; it’s a beautiful story that examines the many faces of motherhood, and the question of what makes a mother a mother.
Mother won the Baeksang Arts Award for Best Drama in 2018, the same year that Stranger and Fight for My Way were nominated, but it isn’t as well known or widely viewed. I’m sure many people take one look at the synopsis — a substitute primary school teacher (Lee Bo-young) impulsively runs away with her student (Heo Yool) when she realizes she is a victim of child abuse — and decide that it’s too dark and heavy to handle.
While the topic of child abuse is of course extremely upsetting — and I definitely would not recommend this to anyone who could be triggered by it — Mother is about so much more than abuse. It’s a beautiful story that examines the many faces of motherhood, and the question of what makes a mother a mother.
Adapted from a Japanese drama and written by Jung Seo-Kyoung, a frequent collaborator of legendary filmmaker Park Chan-wook including on Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005), The Truth Beneath (2016), and The Handmaiden (2016), Mother is every bit as suspenseful as it is dramatic.
The best Korean dramas take viewers on a rollercoaster of emotions, but this was a whole different experience. Every episode had me bouncing back and forth between ugly crying and sitting on the edge of my seat from tension, as our mother-daughter pair were pursued by law enforcers and the child’s abusers.
Mother has two of the worst human beings I've ever seen depicted in a k-drama, portrayed brilliantly by Ko Sung-hee and Son Seok-koo. What makes them worse than over-the-top makjang villains is knowing that they exist in real life: women who cling so desperately to their partners that they allow them to abuse their own children, and the beasts capable of committing unspeakable acts of cruelty. Although the drama portrays that abusers may also have been victims themselves, it doesn’t hold this up as an excuse. But it does drive home the heartbreaking reality that the vicious cycle of abuse may leave children scarred and damaged for life.
On the flip side, Mother shines a light on the absolute best of humanity: Selfless people with enormous hearts, who are willing to take huge risks and sacrifice everything to help an innocent child they barely know. As the old adage goes, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and this drama has a tapestry of mother figures — single dads included — who help our heroines along the way.
Rich symbolism and numerous clever literary references, a hauntingly stirring OST, cinematic photography, and excellent performances — among which then 7-year old child actress phenomenon Heo Yool stood out — all come together to make one of the most beautiful, heart-wrenching, yet also uplifting k-dramas I have ever seen.
Mother easily joins My Mister as one of my favorite heavy k-dramas of all time.
Mother (16 episodes) is available for streaming on Viu.