This sentimental South Korean movie is about a spoiled young boy from Seoul who is sent, against his will, to stay with his aged grandmother in a convenience-forsaken rural backwater. As it traces its predictable/reassuring trajectory from initial alienation to eventual integration, the film clearly and effectively touches upon a number of worthwhile issues. There are lessons about the challenges and benefits of developing relationships with the elderly, and with elderly relatives especially. There are clear illustrations of how modern technology can distance us from important traditions and life processes. Most pointedly, much energy is expended in enumerating the sacrifices that parents—or grandparents—make, and how ungrateful selfish children can be. It is in the portrayal of this last idea that we find the main difficulty in the film, one common to stories told in order to teach a lesson. Its points are undoubtedly valid, but The Way Home is made with such a heavy hand that we may find ourselves resisting them.
The film strains for laughs, and it jerks tears. The score is intrusive and over-emphatic, alternating annoyingly between sauciness and saccharine. Performances by the children, especially by Seung-ho Yu, are tsk-ingly naughty, or very sweet, but not often enough within striking distance of any actually observed child behaviour (in contrast, the easy authenticity of some of the adult performances, many by non-actors, is quite striking—Eul-boon Kim in the role of the deaf-mute grandmother deserves special mention in this regard). Here is a problem to be laid at writer-director’s door. As with individual performances, so too with the shaping of scenes and the narrative entire; throughout, the film shows a consistent willingness to sacrifice simple character plausibility for the sake of heavy emotional effects (consider the last leave-taking) which are often unearned. As a result of all of this the film’s moral may register, but it might not penetrate with any great force; we’ve been told, but not persuaded or won over.
Still, these shortcomings are not in themselves fatal, and they can certainly be turned to advantage. With this film parents might consider, and discuss, how sincere and laudable stories may not always be effectively executed. A key question arises. How can we in such cases combine clear critical thinking with good will, enabling us to see both the problems and the benefits that mitigate them? However this discussion might go, when all is considered, The Way Home exposes us vividly and positively to places and people with which we might not have been familiar. Here is a service for which we can be grateful.