THE WAY HOME (2002)
Simple, poignant and affecting, a city brat grandson stays with his mute country grandmother and learns the value of humility
Grandparents provide a rather exclusive relationship with their grandchildren. Often, the strict ways they forced on their own children are abandoned for a spoil-fest for their grandchildren.
The Way Home looks at a sub-branch of this relationship, one that focuses on the patience and abiding love that a grandparent can show a grandchild, even when the child’s petulance and peevishness does not warrant such treatment.
The film also has much to say about Korea’s city-rural divide, a reoccurring theme of Korean cinema, as the digital amusements of the city are replaced with humbler country avocations.
The set-up of The Way Home is simple and all the better for it. Seven-year-old San-woo (Yoo Seung-ho) and his mother bus out to the country to meet the boy’s grandmother (Kim Eul-boon), who is mute, but not deaf, and living a simple country life.
As his mother returns to Seoul to concentrate on finding work after a failed business venture, Sang-woo is horrified at the living conditions in the country.
Instantly, Sang-woo is rude, abusive and dismissive of his country grandmother, demanding junk food and batteries for his games console. Despite his grandmother’s best efforts, nothing is good enough for San-woo.
Eventually, churlishness gives way to the realisation that his grandmother’s love is more valuable that his city comforts and San-woo begins to acknowledge the fortune he enjoys with such care.
Before the credits roll, the film is dedicated to all grandmothers around the world and The Way Home is certainly a fitting tribute to those special and irreplaceable figures in our lives.
Korea films are most frequently sprawling in both their run times and narrative structures, so The Way Home is a clear departure. It is a simple story, running under 90 minutes, but it manages to pack a bigger emotional punch than many 200-minute action-thrillers.
At times it is difficult to watch Sang-woo treatment of his grandmother, include lashing her with slurs such as ‘retard’.
While most of us have never dared speak to our grandmothers like this, the film also manages to invoke a subtle guilt that we could have ever doubted the support of our grandparents, even if we only did it momentarily in a flash of anger.
Even as she tries to please him, nothing seems to work. At one point Sang-woo demands Kentucky Fried Chicken, but his grandmother only understands ‘chicken’, going to great lengths to make him a more traditional boiled chicken much to his disgust.
The film is about bridging the generational gap, the city-country divide, but it is also about the failure to return the love of a family member. The bridge that builds over that gap is the unconditional nature of the grandmother’s love. You will find your patience with Sang-woo wearing thin, but the grandmother never stops.
One of the highest grossing films ever in Korea, it struck a chord in the country where the family dynamic is so important. A triumph of simplicity. Proof that cinema can squeeze you through an emotional wringer with just a small boy spending time with his grandmother.