Most people remember director Bong Joon-ho's previous film, The Host, as a monster movie. In truth, the real story of The Host stems from small-scale themes like family and loss—but how else do you label a movie about a giant squid-beast emerging from Seoul's Han River?

Similarly, if one were to categorize Mother, Bong's latest, you could do worse than "murder mystery." When Do-joon (Won Bin), a mentally handicapped manchild, is accused of murdering a schoolgirl, his mother (a terrific Kim Hye-ja) takes it upon herself to clear his name at any cost. This is a standard, boilerplate premise, but Bong dodges conventional noir trappings whenever he can, for better or worse.

Like The Host's monster, the mystery in Mother is almost beside the point: Answers come languidly as Kim's detective work brings her into circles of lawyers, policemen, and a teenage girl who modifies cell phones with spinning plastic poop antennas. The resulting film is a collection of arresting moments, one that's slow in pace and scattershot in structure. Whether you consider Mother a mess or a masterpiece, by the last reel, one thing is (still) clear: Bong is an extraordinarily unique filmmaker to spend two hours with.