Written and directed by Lee Jeong-hyang, Jibeuro (The Way Home) is the story of a city-born young boy who lives with his grandmother in a rural village in South Korea while his mother is looking for work in the city. The film explores culture clashes and age difference between a grandmother and a grandson as well as their relationship. Starring Kim Eul-boon and Yu seung-ho. Jibeuro is a tender yet mesmerizing film from Lee Jeong-hyang.
The film is essentially the story of a 7-year old city boy named Sang-woo (Yu seung-ho) who has to live with his mute grandmother (Kim Eul-boon) for the summer while his mother (Dong hyo-hee) has to look for work. What happens is that Sang-woo is essentially a spoiled child who is in a new world, couldn’t really understand what his grandmother is trying to say through sign, and is more concerned about getting batteries for his game and wanting to eat fried chicken. That’s pretty much a summation of the first half where eventually the boy does become more caring towards his grandmother although he remains a somewhat selfish boy that has no idea what it’s like outside of Seoul.
The screenplay explores the dynamics between a boy and his grandmother who eventually bond despite their social, cultural, and age differences as well as the fact that the grandmother doesn’t say a word nor knows how to read or write. Yet, she isn’t some simple woman from a village as she offers a lot of love to the boy while trying to understand what he wants and be good to him. Sang-woo however is very naïve about what is out there in rural South Korea where he does meet a couple of young kids but is more interested in playing with his toys and a pocket video game. While Sang-woo is an un-likeable character who can be annoying, his development is compelling where he learns more about his grandmother and eventually worries for her where their bond really comes together in the third act.
Lee Jeong-hyang’s direction is very straightforward as it’s shot mostly in a cinema verite style to play out the realism of the film. Yet, there’s a lot of amazing compositions and wide shots of the locations set in Jeetongma near the Gyeongbuk Province in South Korea. The landscape itself is a character where Jeong-hyang establishes this very different world that doesn’t have a lot but the people there are very kind and are just living a very simple yet quiet life as opposed to the more vibrant world of Seoul, Korea.
There’s a few shots where the camera does have an air of stylized compositions but Jeong-hyang keeps it simple such as the scenes of a boy walking up a hill only to run from a cow. While a lot of the film’s story and plot points are quite predictable, Jeong-hyang does end it on a truly touching note that has an air of ambiguity but also a bit of hope. Overall, Jeong-hyang creates a film that features a truly universal story that will touch anyone about the grandmother-grandson dynamic.
Cinematographer Yoon Hong-shik does excellent work with the film‘s beautiful cinematography to capture the gorgeous landscapes of the locations along with some wonderful nighttime shots in the home of the grandmother. Editors Kim Jae-beom and Kim Sang-beom do nice work with the editing in creating a mostly straightforward approach to the cutting with a few uses of dissolves, fade-outs, and jump cuts to keep the film‘s pace moved at a brisk pace. Art director Shin Jum-hee does terrific work with the simple though drab look of the grandmother‘s home to establish her world.
The sound work of Lee Seung-cheol is wonderful for the way many of the objects and smaller moments are captured in the quieter moments of the film along with more raucous moments in the town sequence where Sang-woo and his grandmother visit to attend a market. The film’s music by Kim Dae-hong and Kim Yang-hee is brilliant for its plaintive and tender piano-driven piece with mixtures of melodic instruments to play out the innocence and charm of the film as it’s definitely one of the film’s highlights.
The film’s small but incredible ensemble cast is another highlight of the film as it includes notable appearances from Yim Eun-kyung as a kind farm boy, Min Kyung-hyun as a young girl Sang-woo is interested in, and Dong Hyo-hee as Sang-woo’s mother. Kim Eul-boon is great as the mute grandmother where her physicality and her willingness to communicate through her hands is a truly fascinating performance for someone is really a non-actor. Finally there’s Yu Seung-ho who is amazing as the spoiled Sang-woo where Seung-ho had to be a kid that is un-likeable to watch at first but does manage to capture the spirit of a 7-year old city boy who eventually starts to bond with his grandmother in the most touching gesture he could do without saying a word.
Jibeuro is an extraordinary and heartwarming film from Lee Jeong-hyang. Featuring a great cast of unknowns and a truly universal story about family bonds, it’s a film that is really accessible for the way it explores a boy and his relationship with his grandmother. It’s also a film that follows a boy’s evolution into a world that is new to him where he eventually gains an understanding despite the background he came from. In the end, Jibeuro is an enchanting film from Lee Jeong-hyang.
© thevoid99 2012