The 7-year-old Sang-woo (Seung-Ho Yoo) has been dropped into a cosmopolitan Korean’s nightmare. Equipped only with a bag of toys and a bag of Spam, he’s trained then bused by his mother (Hyo-Hee Dong) out into the rural countryside to stay with his grandmother (Eul-Boon Kim) whom he’s never met. When Sang-woo finds out his grandmother’s deaf and mute, he snaps back to his mother, “Then she won’t bug me like you.”
Written and directed by Jeong-Hyang Lee, The Way Home starts out as a classic “spoiled brat gets his just deserts” scenario. Sang-woo has no respect for anything. He exists without any understanding of other people’s pain, as if the rest of the world were an insect for him to torture. He thinks nothing of continually calling his grandmother a retard when she doesn’t give him — or understand — what he wants. But all is going relatively well, considering. He seems to find some satisfaction in writing insults on the walls and mocking his grandmother for wasting her time gazing at the mountains. But then tragedy strikes; he runs out of Spam and his Gameboy batteries die.
Both Seung-ho Yu and Eul-Boon Kim have the difficult task of carrying a film with next to no dialogue and they handle it comfortably. As the grandmother, Kim, a first-time actress at 78, battles the grandson’s callous behavior with an air of relentless understanding that would break anyone down into a groveling heap of unworthiness. As the hateful grandson who thinks the only things that matter in life are his own needs, Yu undergoes a whole spectrum of transitions from criminal to guilty, from love-born to lovelorn. Not until he finally feels a little pain on his own, including the excruciating agonies of a first crush, can he begin to understand the great sacrifices his imperturbable grandmother makes for him.
The Way Home is an ode to unconditional love and compassion garnered from years of seeing it all, a condition only the old are privy to, and a condition often misconstrued as weakness.
Opens Wednesday exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.