We've had films celebrating the love of mothers and fathers, the support from siblings, and even the reliability of cousins, but rare is the picture that wants to remind the world of the sacrifices of dear old grandmother.
The Korean film, "The Way Home" (IMDb listing) stars young Seung-Ho Yoo as Sang-woo. A spoiled 7 year-old from Seoul, Sang-woo is sent by his mother to live with his grandmother in the mountains of rural Korea. With his Game Boy and other beloved toys in tow, Sang-woo is confronted with isolation and archaic appliances for the first time in his life. Grandmother (Eul-Boon Kim) is deaf and mute, and try as she might, she cannot offer the boy anything to cure his big city ways. As Sang-woo fights the quizzical affections from his grandmother, his own apathy for the old-fashioned ways of the community, and tries to navigate his first crush on a local girl, he begins to understand his selfish ways and struggles to correct them.
"The Way Home" is a restrained gem of a film. A quiet study of the clash between the old-fashioned ways of the elders and the high-tech, consumer oriented world of the young, "The Way Home" is as direct, and welcomingly message-free as a film gets. It's funny, sad, confusing, sweet and ultimately respectful, yet never pushes too hard on the emotions, nor begs for attention.
The film is very similar to Takeshi Kitano's 1999 masterpiece "Kikujiro," in that the film hardly moves, yet is consistently winning and fascinating as it plays out. While it doesn't share the healthy sense of humor Kitano's film had, "The Way Home" is similarly sweet in its exploration of a relationship between the young and the old. The best scenes of the film utilize this conflict skillfully, as when Sang-woo wants an order of Kentucky Fried Chicken, with Grandmother, having no clue what the boy is talking about, sweetly spending the day purchasing, boiling, and serving a pasty, watery chicken to the none-too-pleased Sang-woo.
The most confounding aspect of "The Way Home" is the way it follows Sang-woo's character arc. In the opening of the film, the boy is a menace. Spoiled to the gills, and relentlessly demanding to those around him, including his altruistic grandmother, Sang-woo is a brat. Typically, a film such as this would feature a turning point for the character, in that he would learn the error of his ways, and spend the climax of the film becoming a better person. However, this moment never occurs in "The Way Home." In fact, Sang-woo remains a jerk even in the face of overwhelmingly condemning evidence of his terrible actions. It's very brave and refreshing of writer/director Jeong-hyang Lee to allow his main character to remain such a nuisance. While Sang-woo doesn't exactly end up a Grinch in the end, I'm still not terribly convinced he learned any lessons.
"The Way Home" is a sweet celebration of the patience and selflessness needed to be a grandparent in these days, when the gap between generations is growing wider by the minute.
Filmfodder Grade: B+