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The Way Home (PG)
Paramount Classics
Official Site
Director: Jeong-Hyang Lee
Producers: Woo-Hyun Whang, Jae-woo Whang
Written by: Jeong-Hyang Lee
Cast: Sueng-ho Yoo, Eul-boon Kim

Rating: out of 5

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 young boy.

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 simply waiting.

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.

—Roxanne Bogucka


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