the way home (2001)


director: jeong-hyang lee

eul-boon kim, seung-ho yoo

Itís hard to imagine a story simpler, or more explicitly intent on tugging at the heartstrings, than Jeong-hyang Leeís The Way Home, the story of a spoiled little boy from the city forced to live with his poor grandmother in the country. Itís also a challenge to resist the relentless emotional payoff of the film, its singleminded purpose: to bring the little boy and his grandmother together, and to make us overcome our aversion to the storyís powerful sentimentality, as thoroughly as the boy overcomes his selfishness.

Sang-woo (Seung-ho Yoo) is a typical little boy, devoted to his Game Boy and his collection of heavily-marketed toys, his consolation prize from a single mother too overworked to pay much attention to the him. Heís also a uniquely unlovable little brat, treating his mother with constant, sullen resentment, which seems mild compared to the sneering disrespect and selfish whining that his grandmother accepts with stoic, uncomplaining love.

Eul-boon Kim, who plays the grandmother, is a non-actor who Lee picked out while scouting rural locations, and who apparently had never even seen a movie. Bent like a hairpin, and blessed with a gently imploring expression, she makes the grandmother utterly undeserving of the horrid little boyís unceasing abuse. For the first half of the film, The Way Home presents the unusual spectacle of a childrenís story that makes you long for the abolition of children.

Eventually, though, Sang-woo is forced to comprehend his grandmotherís vast, unconditional love for him, mostly through the almost systematic humiliation that gets visited upon city people suddenly dropped in the country. When it comes, at the very end of the film, itís an admirably restrained surrender to the well-earned sentiment that the film has flirted with for an hour and a half, a celebration of simple, familial affection, and the devastating moment when children learn that their actions have consequences.