Paramount Classics | Release Date: November 15, 2002
Universal acclaim based on 18 Ratings
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pasbpMay 18, 2015
A spoiled, loud mouth brat. A mute, hunchback granny. An emotional breakdown-inducing boiled chicken. They all came together one day in a derelict wooden cabin in South Korea’s deep rural countryside and created a deeply satisfying magicA spoiled, loud mouth brat. A mute, hunchback granny. An emotional breakdown-inducing boiled chicken. They all came together one day in a derelict wooden cabin in South Korea’s deep rural countryside and created a deeply satisfying magic little film of universal appeal. That is exactly what happened in Jeetongma, in the Northern Gyeongsang Province of South Korea back in 2002.

As far fetched a concept as it sounds, reality is even more implausible, as is often the case. Of its two main protagonists, one was an 8 year-old first time actor (Seung-Ho Yoo) and another an ethereal and majestic 78-year Eul-boon Kim who had never watched a film, let alone act in one. Both achieved what many a seasoned actor seeks to achieve and often fails: a performance of poetic understatement, rhythmic grace and profound meaning. To be honest, nothing much really happens in the film 'The Way Home'; its language is that of emotions and of as fewer words as possible. The plot boils down to a single mother who turns to her own elderly mother for support after a failed business venture and who leaves behind her son with her, so to be able to get back on her feet.

The city boy/brat is predictably not particularly happy with this new arrangement. He misses his KFC and he is stuck in a home without electricity, water or a bed, let alone a supply of fried American chicken. He sulks, cries, kicks and screams. The grandmother shows limitless tolerance and unconditional love that only age can bring. She belongs to the clan of the Earth, as poetically depicted in one single lingering shot where she sits at the door, overseeing the countryside forest, swaying in synch with the trees as the wind ruffles through the leaves. She is a creature of forrest. The land, its people, its demands: that is all she has ever known. It has never occurred to her to ask for more because in her world, there isn’t more to ask for. She takes from the land the sustenance she needs for herself, whether for consumption or sale in the dusty rundown market. She is a weathered trunk, the hunchback betraying the hardships of the seasons taking their toll.

Hers is the realm of simple pleasures: fleeting jocose moments with friends as weathered as her, the triumph that is managing to scrape deep enough to be able to afford a chicken and boil it for supper. He, on the other hand, belongs to the clan of game boy players. He has little patience to see through the seasons. He is incapable of being in synch with the rhythms of the land. And being in synch with them is pretty much all there is to do where he suddenly finds himself.

He represents the present and future of South Korea; she the past. Without him, South Korea would have never risen from the ranks of deprivation, poverty and war. Without her, South Korea runs the risk of losing its soul. He expects and demands of life; she simply rides it. Naturally, matters come to a head and the age hold question of what happens when an unstoppable force meets an unmoveable one is finally answered. They create unity by learning from each other’s strengths. Far from being a children's morality tale, the plot actually skews any simplistic moral dogmatisms. The reality is that whilst the dignified grandmother, by force of persistence and unyielding permanency, does instil in the little boy a timeless sense of respect, moral rectitude and of right and wrong, she too learns a lesson. She learns that simply because things have always been a certain way, they don’t necessarily have to continue to be so. The grandson becomes the first and likely only person to ever acknowledge her beyond her obvious muteness and dignified silence. He teaches her how to communicate and write because, in the end, he cannot bear the thought of having to go and not being able to know if she is alright (read 'if she is alive'). And because after decades of illiteracy, written eloquence is a tough ask, he develops a unique visual language between her and him, much like the singular world that they built during their brief time together that only they can inhabit. And we are the lucky witnesses of the unfolding of that magical, intimate world. In the end, the unmovable and unstoppable forces learn that they don’t oppose each other as much as they complement one another.

You, on the other hand, will wail over a boiled chicken, a dilapidated bus and ugly drawings in crumpled sheets of paper. Oh well…
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