- A touching film about healing 1/19/2003 12:00:00 AM by howard.schumann
"Love makes us lessen our selfish and self-centered view of the world. Even the smallest kind word, or gentle loving gesture, has repercussions in the infinite?"- Lama Surya Das
Unconditional love is the ability to love someone exactly the way they are and the way they are not, without judgment or evaluation. With this kind of unconditional love, the well being of others becomes more important to us than our own. Spiritual teachers tell us that if we can silence the constant chattering of the mind, we can get in touch with this capacity. I know it is a big stretch for me, but for the wise old grandmother in the South Korean film, The Way Home, it is second nature. This film by Lee Jeong-hyang, one of Korea's few female directors, is this year's biggest box-office hit in South Korea and the first Korean film to receive major studio distribution in the United States. The grandmother, played with startling authenticity by first-time actress, 78 year-old Kim Eul-boon, conveys without speaking the redeeming power of love. Like the young Aboriginal girls in the Australian film Rabbit-Proof Fence, Kim had never even seen a movie before she was discovered in a talent search among rural villagers.
In The Way Home, Sang-woo (Yoo Seung-ho), an insufferable seven-year old boy from Seoul, is deposited at his grandmother's house in the remote village of Youngdong in Korea's Choongbuk province so the mother can have time to look for work. The grandmother's posture is stooped and her face is withered from years of hard work and she suffers from a chronic disability and cannot speak. She lives in a wooden hut carved into the hillside and the stunning cinematography magnificently captures the beauty and remoteness of this mountain retreat. Sang-woo is about the most spoiled and irritating boy that I have ever seen in films and one that would try the patience of St. Francis of Assisi. Full of street-smart know-it-all, he marches into grandma's home with his electronic toys, cans of Coca-Cola and Spam, and starts calling her dummy and byungshin (retard). When she asks what he wants to eat, he tells her "pizza, hamburger, and Kentucky Fried Chicken". She walks all the way to town to buy him a chicken but he won't eat it (until he is too hungry to resist) because it is boiled in a pot and not fried, Colonel-style.
Despite everything the boy does to her including stealing her shoes so she has to walk barefoot and removing a clasp for her hair so he can sell it to buy batteries for his Game Boy, she remains centered and loving. Rather than refusing to cater to his every whim, she becomes increasingly generous, cleaning and cooking for him and overlooking his stealing. He begins to accept the new lifestyle, helping his grandmother to thread a needle, hang up clothes on the clothesline, and shop with her at the market. Gradually he also learns about the meaning of kindness when he sees his grandmother give a package of vitamins to a dying man, and when a neighborhood boy, Hae-yeon (Yim Eun-kyung) forgives him for teasing him about a "crazy" runaway cow.
When Sang-woo's mother comes back to retrieve him, though undemonstrative, he has clearly changed. I was expecting a saccharine payoff, but Ms. Jeong-hyang wisely stays away from a melodramatic farewell that would be out of sync with the rest of the film. Besides, it isn't about the destination but the journey, and Sang-woo in his sojourn with grandma has learned some valuable lessons that become apparent by the end of the film. The Way Home is dedicated to all grandmothers around the world and speaks volumes about the power of loving-kindness to heal the hardest heart. Reminiscent of the Iranian film, The Wind Will Carry Us by Abbas Kiarostami, this is not just the umpteenth variation on the city slicker versus country bumpkin theme but a refreshing look at what truly makes a difference in life. With a lovely score by Kim Dae-hong and Kim Yang-hee, it is yet another example of the emotional power of films that do not require a huge budget, mind-boggling complexity, special effects, or even dialogue to work their magic. And magic it is indeed?Have you hugged your grandmother lately?
- I've not seen anyone depict better the bittersweet relationship between a spoiled child and his patient grandmother. 1/29/2003 12:00:00 AM by jdesando
I've not seen anyone depict better the bittersweet relationship between a spoiled child and his patient grandmother than Korean director Lee Jeong-Hyang's ` The Way Home.' Nothing spectacular happens during seven-year-old Sang-woo's visit to grandmother's home in a rural village after his single mother drops him off. Changes occur, albeit predictably; the glory is in the small matters that will matter much to the boy as he matures long after the visit.
Why won't this film make it big if I like it so much? Well, the kid kills no one, smokes nothing, and speaks in child language, so audiences might just yawn. Additionally, the boy is a poor actor who hasn't been directed well. But grandma, now there is an actress. Kim Eul-boon was discovered in her native village, 78 years old and never seen a movie! Hunched over, skin leathery and crinkled, expressions minimalist, she embodies the infirmities of old age and the resolution of a tough spirit to care for herself and other ancient neighbors to the last breath. Her grandson, abusive and self-centered, is just another person to care for who she knows is worth saving, in unconditional love probably unacceptable to aggressive Americans.
When grandson plays with neighbor kids, he learns about the life's dangers by experiencing the menacing bull regularly chasing them down a particular stretch of necessary road. When he longs for the companionship of a neighbor girl, he learns you have to work at love. When he looks for grandma's love, he finds it in her smallest gestures, like buying and cooking him a chicken she thinks he wants when all he really wants is KFC.
And so this country life goes on with the boy erratically moving from resentment to love and back again in an endlessly ambivalent cycle. The batteries he uses up for his electronic games serve as metaphor for his city life's wasteful and empty energy.
The semi-modern buses coming to and from the market also serve as emblems of the tenuous relationship between city and province, grandmother and daughter, grandmother and grandson. So real is the slow and unglamorous rural life that you know Hyang has understood accurately that life and love are served slowly through its minor moments.
I guarantee you will never forget the charismatic grandmother outfitted as a lowly peasant-she is a survivor and one hell of an actress. The film is dedicated to all grandmothers. `Here's looking at you, Kid.'
- a young korean city boy spends two months with his grandmother in the country 3/10/2005 12:00:00 AM by caseyjwolf
i am not an easy sell on movies. many things can strike a sour note and put me off a little bit. but i rate this movie 10 on every count. it is excellent in story, characterization, cinematography--but all of those words pull me away from what i truly want to say about The Way Home. it is beautiful on a level that few movies are. most movies that attempt the type of emotional beauty that this one does end up a bit cheesy, a bit cliché, and i am not able to take them seriously.
The Way Home simply lays out the struggle of a young boy and the quiet resilience of his grandmother, and here weeks later when i think of it i feel joy.
- A clash of cultures. 3/13/2005 12:00:00 AM by shneur
The key to this movie is the contrast between the traditional "Eastern" values of Harmony and Inner Focus, and the intruding "Western" ones of Mastery and Acquisition. The seven-year-old protagonist brings with him the culture of the big city, Seoul in this case, but it could be anywhere, represented by his battery-operated game and the fact of his mother dumping him in the first place. He is confronted with his elderly grandmother, who simply refuses to engage him in the kind of outer battle he expects, neither to win it nor to lose it. We as audience continually visualize a "modern" parent either bullying this child into submission, or alternatively pandering to his oblivious self-centeredness. Instead, this caretaker evinces UNRELENTING respect for him as a human being: she never once blames, insults, or degrades him. Thus she sets him on the path of an inner journey which are left hoping will last a lifetime.
- Outstanding Love Story 9/23/2005 12:00:00 AM by Jamester
This is a most touching and honest love story. 'Love story', you may wonder?? Are we talking about the same movie? Indeed, the Way Home is a story about a grandson and grandmother with love in the agape tone as it's central theme. Perhaps it's because of the distance between the two: the urban vs the rural; the materialism versus the simple living; or the selfish versus the selfless -- the contrasting styles really make for an interesting comparison in views of the world.
There really was a huge chasm that had to be overcome at the start of this movie, and the action moved superbly in filling out the moments and telling a very visual story of crossing the chasm.
When I read that the director could have spent 2 months filming this movie by shooting in the most efficient manner possible (i.e. common location scenes shot all at once), but chose not to, I was floored. The director *chose* to shoot this movie in chronological sequence spending 6 months on it in order to ensure the emotional sequence would be intact and exact. What a *great* choice -- and it really showed through the movie making it absolutely AMAZING.
This is a very moving movie. I recommend it without reservation.