A rebellious young Korean boy from Seoul who is sent to the country to be in the temporary care of his handicapped peasant grandmother learns the importance of love and caring as a result of her kindness.
When the mother of seven-year-old Sang-Woo (Yoo Seung-ho) undergoes hard times in Soeul, she sends him to a remote village to live temporarily with her handicapped, mute mother. The rebellious and petulant Sang-Woo shows only disdain for the old lady, who treats him with grandmotherly kindness as she shelters him in a primitive hut. The boy rebuffs the grandmother at every turn and often with cruelty. He soon befriends the few other kids in the area, including a girl who awakens in him his first signs of romance, and an older boy whose maturity is a lesson for Sang-Woo in how to treat others. In spite of Sang-Woo's continuing tantrums and cruelty towards his grandmother, she continues to show tolerance and unconditional love. Eventually, the two take a trip to the market town where the boy finally learns kindness and caring and the importance of showing love and being loved.
The young Yoo Seung-ho, who has appeared on TV but makes his feature film debut here as Sang-Woo, is marvelous, in spite of the largely bratty and selfish kid he plays, and utterly believable. Others in the cast, including the incredibly appealing and equally credible Kim Ul-Boon as the grandmother, are non-actors found in the actual remote locations used in the film and perfectly fit their roles.
Director Lee Jeong-hyang, who also wrote the screenplay, triumphs. The story is perilously simple but her execution of that story is perfection: her characters are always credible and interesting to follow and her remote mountainous Korean location is magical. But, most importantly, she uses the tools of film--visuals and sound--in an extraordinarily effective way. Her shots are always interesting, as they convey the barren, remote, undeniably beautiful setting and what these conditions mean to her characters. And her use of sound is equally accomplished, thanks to a soundtrack incredibly rich in the sounds of nature that inform the environment and a subtle and evocative music score that perfectly complements the film's natural setting.
The Way Home is far more than a simple story of how a bratty Korean city kid learns about the importance of love and caring while staying with his invalid peasant granny in a remote village. The film, whose actors are superb and whose setting is enchanting, is a charming tale that proves less is more in the hands of a skilled director. Like the very best of foreign festival films that often don't make it to these shores, The Way Home is a true gem bursting with truths about what happiness is about and what great cinema is about.