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South Korea 2002


Lee Jeong-hyang

Kim Eul-boon
Yu Seung-ho
Dong Hyo-hee
Min Kyung-hyun
Yim Eun-kyung

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The Way Home

Story: Little Sang-woo (Yu Seung-ho) is sent to the countryside by his mother (Dong Hyo-hee), where he is to live at his grandmother's (Kim Eul-boon). Sang-woo's mother has been left by her husband years ago, and sits on a mountain of debt. In order to finally get a job, she has to entrust her son into the care of her mother for a few months. The problem, however, isn't just that the grandmother lives in the country, far away from any technology, but that she is also mute.
Sang-woo proves to be a true little devil. He is incredibly barefaced towards his grandmother, badmouthes at her, and cries when he doesn't get what he wants. Still, the grandmother bears with all the meanness and doesn't even complain about it once. On the contrary, she fondly takes care of Sang-woo in her own very special way, and introduces the boy to a simple life, which he didn't knew before. Weeks go by and suddenly Sang-woo realizes, that an unusal bond of friendship actually developed between him and his grandmother...

Review: "The Way Home" is a very interesting movie. Old meets new, and the film portrays this clash in a very touching and sympathetic way. Female director Lee Jeong-hyang wrote an ode to all the grandmothers of this world with her script, which she underlines herself with the dedication she put at the end of her work. And that's also quite apparent, as we get to understand throughout the film, that we all have been a spoiled, bold kid like Sang-woo, when we were young. Maybe never as extreme, but still, we have only learnt what's really important in life thanks to our parents and grandparents. This was only possible, because parents, or in this case the grandmother, was able to endure our constant dissatisfaction and nagging, and eventually let us have some of their insight and wisdom - or let's just call it experience.

Nonetheless, it's also quite apparent, that the grandmother represents a generation which stands completely in contrast to modern Korean cell phone generation, that is bombarded with consumerfriendly luxury. Still, it's without question that it is the achievement of this generation that we ("we", because the movie isn't only aiming at Korean culture in particular) can live in a society, which in its core is free of concerns, nowadays. Think about it, we neither have to be afraid to starve nor to freeze to death. That's only thanks to the former generations who worked very hard for little reward, and yet never complained.
In "The Way Home" there are many examples for this kind of behavior from the older generation. The grandmother only has what is essential and she is content with it. Without any word of complaint. Sang-woo harasses her, shouts at her, soils the floor and walls, yet she never grouches. With stoic peace of mind she endures Sang-woo's behavior, and even manages to show him the love of a grandmother.

One representative scene is when Sang-woo in a burst of rage kicks a bowl of rice and the grandmother picks it up again, even eating every remaining grain of rice on the floor. We cannot imagine these days which meaning rice must have had for the generations before us. You don't just waste a single grain of rice by sweeping it off the floor and throwing it away.
Another moving scene is, when the grandmother tries to sell some vegetables in town, whereas she almost has to beg for anyone to buy something, just so that she can provide Sang-woo with a hot meal at a restaurant, and buy him some new shoes. Furthermore, the grandmother still has to get some water from far away at her age, and despite her work-branded body she even walks through heavy rain just to buy a rooster for Sang-woo. The boy never thanks her for things like this, but she doesn't complain... For her things were always like this, she doesn't know a life different than this. She only knows a life full of hardships, and therefore can take pleasure in the small things that life provides us with.

Director Lee ("Art Museum by the Zoo") hired, apart from Yu Seung-ho, solely amateurs for her film. Kim Eul-boon, who portrays the grandmother in a wonderfully stoic-peaceful and loveable way, was discovered during a talent search in secluded villages. Unbelievable, yet true: The 78 years old Kim Eul-boon has never seen a movie in her life before! Luckily, this doesn't decrease her perfectly credible portrayal of the grandmother in any way. In one fascinating scene she tries to put wooden blocks through differently shaped holes. A child's play, which the grandmother can't master, however. Here, the protagonist's simple way of thinking shows, yet the audience shouldn't assume that the old lady is stupid or has dementia. It's simply that she never needed a spatial sense in her life.
At her side she has Yu Seung-ho ("Heart is..."), who gives such a great performance as the spoiled, bad-mouthed boy, that we even can't stand him at first.

With time Sang-woo learns to understand what sacrifices his grandmother made for him. Seemingly, the grandmother makes him a better human being without doing much. Just by being who she is.
Sang-woo also has a little child "love story", which was just conceived by the script writers and is never getting any shape or structure. Later on, it's simply dropped without any further explanation, which is rather odd. However, the story in "The Way Home" isn't something that's important, anyway, as it is pretty minimal. Actually, there is happening only few, but it's the small details that can captivate you - e.g. when a friend talks with the grandmother, whereas during the conversation we get to experience some of the naturalness with which they talk about death.
The contradiction, which is stressed by the generation gap between Sang-woo and the grandmother at any time, and the great chemistry between the two main actors, which eventually comes even more to the foreground during the unspectacular, yet effective farewell scene, is what's making this movie so touching. "The Way Home" is a simple, but moving drama, that is rather positive in its mood. The one thing that's making this film so special in the end is the grandmother/Kim Eul-boon. Even days after viewing it, you'll still remember the picture when she vigorously walks up the path to her house in a bent-over position and a stick as a third leg - a picture that will cast a smile on your face...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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