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Way Back Home - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Jib-eu-ro ga-neun gil

South Korea 2013


Bang Eun-jin

Jeon Do-yeon
Ko Soo
Kang Ji-woo
Ryoo Tae-ho
Bae Seong-woo
Joanna Kulig
Corinne Masiero
Lee Dong-hwi

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Way Back Home

Story: Jeong-yeon (Jeon Do-yeon) and Jong-bae (Ko Soo) are happily married, have a little daugther (Kang Ji-woo) and their own car repair shop. However, one day they lose everything as Jong-bae had stood as a guarantor for a credit of one of his friends who then had been entangled in deep debts and took his own life. The family can barely manage to get by. As times are tough Jeong-yeon wants to smuggle a few precious stones into the country for one of her husband's friends. At the airport in France she is checked, though, and it turns out that the bag she is carrying is full of several kilograms of cocaine. Jeong-yeon is taken into custody and since she doesn't get an interpreter because of the incompetent Korean consulate she doesn't know what's going to happen to her. She is jailed in a French prison under extremely bad conditions for as long as no one finds Jeong-bae's friend in Korea, who has to make a testimony about whether Jeong-yeon knew about what she carried with her or not. Before that there can't be any trial. Therefore, Jeong-bae is desperately searching for his former friend who has disappeared while Jeong-yeon tries to somehow hang on.

Review: "Way Back Home" is an interesting drama because it is based on true events. Resulting from that are the movie's biggest problems as well, though. It is all too obvious where the movie took some liberties in order to raise the impact of the drama and at times this is done in such an extensive manner that you get the impression the filmmakers wanted to get across the injustice and suffering, which the female protagonist experiences, with a sledgehammer. Furthermore, there is a gazillion of tears inevitably making the story so melodramatic that you easily could think to be watching a soap opera. But for that again Jeon Do-yeon's acting is too good. In technical respects the movie is also above reproach.

Way Back Home - Film Screenshot 11

It takes quite a while until "Way Back Home" finally puts its focus on the actual story. The introduction is rather long and shows the unfortunate circumstances that led Jeong-yeon into carrying a bag without knowing anything about its content. Well, it is pretty naive to do something like that, but then again there are in fact people like that. However, what's supposed to make you feel really agitated is the course of action from the law and especially the Korean consulate. Inquiries aren't taken seriously, files are misplaced and officials live up to the cliché of incompetent and lazy tax money wasters. Their incompetence leads to injustice and suffering which we are presented with in the shape of Jeong-yeon's fate. Doing so the movie works on different narrational levels.

Way Back Home - Film Screenshot 12

Many of the depicted circumstances are so unbelievable that they are probably true. Jeong-yeon remains locked up without anyone telling her what she needs to expect will happen next. Because the Korean consulate doesn't want to pay for an interpreter or there allegedly isn't one to be found on the island where Jeong-yeon is locked up in prison. Then there are of course the mandatory cell mates that make her life a living hell and there is a prison guard that later on has it in for her. Those are apparently scenes that have been implemented for more dramatic purposes, as is the attempted raping. Well, you could forgive that if it weren't for the fact that those scenes go hand in hand with a lot of tears and a heart-rending score. But more about that in a second.

The other narrational level the movie takes place on is that of the husband, played by Ko Soo ("Taegukgi", "Haunters"). Ko doesn't deliver bad work, but particularly during one emotional scene with Jeon Do-yeon ("The Housemaid", "Secret Sunshine") it almost seems as if he isn't up to the task of playing his role. Jeon is outshining everyone else in the movie and even manages to sell those scenes that actually are overstepping the border to kitsch. On the one hand this kitsch has its origin in a very frequently used melodramatic score, as already stated, and on the other in scenes that are unnecessarily drawn out as if the filmmakers wanted to capture every single tear. There may be movies that feature more tears, but seldomly they are celebrated the way they are here, which for some viewers, and I count myself among them, might turn out to be a big problem.

Way Back Home - Film Screenshot 13

In my book this means female director Bang Eun-jin is making a big step backwards into trivial areas. Her well achieved debut work "Princess Aurora" as well as "Perfect Number" didn't make you expect this. The international shooting locations and the budget are absolutely on a par with top-notch productions and even the balance of scenes inside and outside of the prison as well as the almost complete absense of courtroom scenes have to be appreciated. But corny dialogues and waterfalls of tears at times make the thrilling story of "Way Back Home" degenerate into a trivial drama piece of which there are already enough coming out of Korea. Being praised by many critics my verdict is that this film is ultimately just oversentimental and overrated for the most part.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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