Sometimes it can be a struggle to come up movies you can
watch with your older relatives. The Way Home was made
to order for that rainy day at home with Aunt Lillian. Korean
writer-director Jeong-Hyang Lee’s simple, affecting
movie traces the emotional and moral development of a spoiled
Urbanite Sang-woo (Yoo), a real mocoso whom
you’ll want to smack, gets left with his grandmother (Kim)
in the country when his mother falls on financial hard times.
Although Sang-woo looks to be about seven, apparently his
mother hasn’t visited her mother in at least that many
years. Yet she feels perfectly okay about showing up and depositing
a strange kid on the old lady. It’s not so very hard to see
why this child is self-centered, is it? Life in the country
is very different from the non-stop whirl of entertainment
and pop culture Sang-woo is accustomed to. He is shocked to
discover that Grandmom’s television is a non-working box.
Further, Grandmom is mute and so far removed from his lifestyle
that she can’t possibly entertain him. Frustrated and furious,
Sang-woo alternately ignores her and rages at her, calling
her “retard” and “dummy.” Her response? Patience and kindnesses.
The Way Home is a restful movie, ambling its slow
way to its foregone conclusion. You know perfectly well that
little Red Chief is going to come to appreciate his grandmom,
and while you’re waiting for that to come about you get to
bask in the soothing, reassuring, universal balm that is a
grandmother—someone who loves you just because you’re you.
Sang-woo’s grandmom (who is never given a name of her own)
is an earthly example of the Bible verses about how love is
patient and kind and how love forgives all things and bears
all things. When Sang-woo spurns her traditional meals, Grandmom
asks him, through sign language, what he would like to eat.
“KFC!” he demands, pantomiming the actions of a chicken. Grandmom,
who has never heard of Colonel Sanders and has little visible
means of support, barters some of the cabbages she grows for
a chicken and prepares a chicken dinner that is met with howls
of anger. But later that night, while she sleeps, Sang-woo
pigs out on the chicken.
Two things bring Sang-woo to a more human existence. He develops
a huge crush on the fetching little girl who lives down the
lane, though her affections seem to belong to an older local
boy. And his grandmom falls ill, requiring his ministrations.
Having to give to the old woman makes him reflect on her unstinting
giving to him.
The woman who portrays the grandmother had never seen a movie
before being cast in The Way Home, making this narrative
film, in a sense, a documentary. Kim is excellent at the forbearing
grandmother. Nothing this little wretch does seems to ruffle
her placid exterior. She offers him things and he slaps her
hands away, but she never has that long-suffering look. At
this point, my companion said, “Most grandmas I know are a
little more assertive than this!” But in fact, clearly this
grandma is unassertive because she’s not suffering. She’s
The wait pays off handsomely. Without any big to-do, a spoiled
boy learns how to be a real human being, from a master. The
movie is sweet, a much-maligned word, without excessive drama
or maudlin scenes. It is also thought-provoking, making its
viewers consider what it means to be real human beings themselves,
and how we might behave if we want others to respond in kind.