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Seven year old city born Sang-woo is dropped off in the middle of rural South Korea to stay with his elderly grandmother for the summer. Upon his arrival, Sang-woo is shocked and disgusted by the country lifestyle and especially with his grandmother, a partially deaf mute who has lived in the same village her whole life. Angry and confused, Sang-woo resists the affections of his grandmother, trying to find a way to survive country life, and gradually, over time, begins to let his guard down.

Title: The Way Home

Director: Jeong-hyang Lee

Year: 2002

Country: South Korea

Length: 80 minutes


Cast:

Eul-boon Kim …………...Grandmother

Seung-ho Yoo …………..Sang-woo

Hyo-hee Dong ………….Sang-woo's Mother

  • Yin and Yang
  • Juxtaposition
  • Protagonist
  • Dissolves
  • Screenplay
  • Mise-en-scene

Yin and Yang: In Chinese philosophy, it describes how opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world.

Juxtaposition: prefix “juxta” comes from a Latin word that means “close to.” The placing of two images side by side, in space or time.

Protagonist: leading character of a story

Dissolves: Dissolve: An editing transition when a previous shot fades into a following shot.

Screenplay (script):The written instructions, dialogue, and scene descriptions for a film’s story.

Mise-en-Scene: All the visual elements that are placed in a scene for the camera; this involves the set, set decoration, props, costumes, lighting. Mise-En-Scene means "putting in the scene" in French.

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Korea, once a unified country, was annexed by the Japanese in 1910 and was occupied by that country until the end

of World War II. A “temporary” division of the country was made in 1945, with the communist North administered by the Soviet Union and the noncommunist South by the United States. Two separate governments were created in 1948, one communist and one aligned with the West in the Cold War. In 1950, the three-year Korean War broke out and ended with a ceasefire; there is still no permanent peace settlement. South Korea has prospered economically more than North Korea because of its ties to Western trading partners. The U.S. military maintains a presence in South Korea and the United States is committed to South Korea’s independence.


Since the 1960s South Korea has seen tremendous migration within the country and emigration to other nations.Within the country the biggest shift has been from farms to cities. The city of Seoul has almost one-fourth of South Korea’s population, due to this process. Today, over five times as many South Koreans live in the cities as in rural areas. Economic changes mean that sometimes factories lay off workers; and then local service workers (such as shopkeepers like the mother in the film) are also at risk. Koreans have also emigrated to other countries; today, over two million Koreans live in the United States and almost as many in China.

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Heaven (three unbroken bars, top left)

Fire (broken bar between two unbroken ones, bottom left)

Water (unbroken bar between two broken ones, top right)

Earth (three broken bars, bottom right)

In the Chinese book, I Ching, it states that all things can be explained in yin; dark and cold (blue color of the flag and yang; bright and hot (red color of the flag)

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“When I was in junior high school I saw the movie Towering Inferno and I fell hard for Paul Newman. I got so much pleasure out of movies that I became a movie maniac. I thought about how I could return this happiness that I get from movies. So I thought by being a film director I could make good movies to return this pleasure. Ever since then my dream has never changed.”

Early on in Lee's life she developed a passion for film and went on to be a member of the fourth graduating class of the Korean Academy of Film Arts. She has received great acclaim from viewers and critics alike and won Best New Director at the Grand Bell Film Awards, the Blue Dragon Film Awards, the YongPyung Film Awards, and the Choonsa Film Awards.

~Asia Society

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  • Both written and directed by Jeong-Hyang Lee, a story that was very personal to her. Before she was able to make the movie, her grandmother passed away never knowing she was creating a piece inspired by her.
  • The budget was extremely low with only the main protagonist, Sang-woo as a professional actor. The rest of the cast were non-professional and the majority were locals from Jeetongma.
  • Trying to find the perfect setting for her rural story, Lee asked an expert and researcher who had written about the remote villages in North Korea. Jeetongma was the suggested and the last village she ended up scouting. When she arrived, she knew that the mud houses and curvy dirt roads fit the profile. Out of the eight residents of Jeetongma, Jeong-Hyang Lee said it was a miracle she came upon the actor who would play the grandmother.
  • The woman to play one of the pivotal parts, was not keen at first as she was afraid she would be too slow. Lee assured her the slowness is an important part of the character, ultimately convincing her to take the ole.
  • To everyone’s surprise, the film grossed $20 million in the first year of its release out performing the high budget box office hits. After receiving such attention and awards, The Way Home put Jeong-Hyang Lee on the map as one of the top female North Korean directors.

Discussion Questions

Explain to the class that our social circumstances determine how we make sense of any text – in this case, a film. (Audience’s age, gender, ethnic background, culture, and social class are some of the things that influence our interpretation of a story.)


Pre-Discussion:

  1. Have you ever been in a situation where you were in a place without any electronics (phone included), shops, mall, or cars? What did that feel like? (It will be very easy to label the main character as a spoiled child. Try to see where he is coming from, and how, as young children and even when older, we express how we are feeling through specific behavior).
  2. Knowing how North Korea finds importance in yin and yang, what contrasting themes, objects and characters can you expect in this film? Give an example
  3. The film has a slow pace that is a purposeful part of the storytelling. While watching the film, think about the motivation for this.
  4. Describe the camera techniques used to emphasize a feeling, emotion, character trait, theme.
  5. We will be analyzing the scene/s of the journey the boy and mother take to the grandmother. Think about how information was revealed about character situation, background, and emotions are conveyed through actions and film techniques.

Post Discussion:

Analyzing a Scene: Mother and Son on their journey to the country
  • What have you learned about the relationship between the boy and his mother?
  • What other facts do you learn about the mother’s life?
  • Do you think she is a good mother to the boy? Why or why not?
  • Why does she bring gifts to her mother?
  • How do you think Sang-woo feels about being separated from his mother and home he knows, only to be left with his grandmother in a rural village he doesn’t know?
  1. What are Sang-woo’s main characteristics at the beginning of the film? How does he change by the end of the film? What causes these changes? Describe a specific scene where you saw his character begin to change as evidence to these different traits compared to the beginning and end of the film.
  2. Would you describe him as a static character or dynamic character, why?
  3. What about the Grandmother? Describe her and what you think she represented.
  4. How did the filmmakers juxtapose moments, objects, characters etc. in the film? List the contrasts and give specific examples. Examples can include mise-en-scene, acting, and camera techniques.
  5. Camera staying a fixed position letting action go by without following it. Is this traditional? What kind of effect did it have?
  6. Viewing from your own perspective and having grown-up with perhaps a different cultural background, what did you learn that was different from what you’ve experienced? What was similar/familiar.

I enjoyed this movie because of the character growth. In the beginning Sang-woo seemed to be evil born as a human but eventually he came to like and respect his grandmother. This change was slow and even when he seemed to get slightly nicer he was still a selfish brat(like with the chicken). I also enjoyed how the grandmother  had patience with him even though he was a jerk to her throughout most of the movie. I expected the grandmother to die in the end but i was more satisfied with how it turned out. It was emotional when he gave her his Cubix superhero story cards. I think the mom spoiled the kid when he was younger and should treat him with the respect he treated his grandmother, at least that's how I would do it if I was a father and my kid treated his grandmother like that. Overall I enjoyed this movie and would recommend it to others.

by James M.
JAN 18TH. 2016 5:00PM

Emily Ohara TEACHER

A very thoughtful and personal review. I agree with your assumption about the grandmother dying in the end as it is a story ploy used a lot; character learns to overcome negative feelings for someone, that someone dies in the end.

JAN 20TH. 2016 11:50AM