The Way Home

Quietly unfolding like a sweet and simple fable, The Way Home is a touching, award-winning film about the common bonds that emerge between distant generations. Directed with delicate compassion by Jyong-Hyang Lee, it’s the first South Korean film to receive distribution by a major American studio (under the art-house imprimatur of Paramount Classics), and begins when seven-year-old Sang-Woo (Yoo Seung-Ho) is left with his mute, stooped-over grandmother (Kim Eul-Boon) in her ramshackle hut in a rural region far from the comforts of Seoul. While his single mother struggles to find a job, the selfish boy initially resents his elderly relative, who responds to his obstinate behavior with unconditional love. Slowly, the boy comes to respect and love his caring grandma in return, and while The Way Home is too slight for its 88 minutes and leaves important character details unexplained, its soothing rhythms, youthful humor, and playful score lend universal appeal to the story. (Amazingly, the 78-year-old Kim had never seen a film before appearing in this one.) —Jeff Shannon (
Year Released
Running Time
80 minutes
Date Released
2003 (DVD)
Average: 4 (12 votes)


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THE WAY HOME - Movie Review written by Hayley Tolley

Field of Interest/Specialty: Korea
Posted On: 01/06/2019

It's interesting how cultures can be very different from each other and yet have so many of the same problems or circumstances. Although this movie was filmed in Korea, the relevancy of its general message is one that spans both time and culture. In the movie, "The Way Home" a young city-boy named Sang-woo is forced to move to the rural country after his mother falls on hard times financially. He will be living with his mute grandmother who is also very poor. He is not used to the type of lifestyle with no electricity or running water and finds his grandmother and the other country-folk to be an annoyance. As time goes by and his batteries die, he is forced to learn a few lessons in humility and ends up growing fond of his grandmother. Her unconditional love and care for him finally softens his heart and by the end of the movie you see a glimmer of hope in him changing his spoiled brat ways.
This movie is very relevant for children these days. So often we come across kids who are spoiled by their parents/grandparents that they look down and bully other students that don't have as much as they do. I feel as this movie could be used as a wonderful tool in Character education. I think as educators we get so focused on the academia we are required to teach and never get to focus on social skills or character traits. As a Special Educator, I've often come across students who struggle in both these areas. This movie helps everyone to see that material things are not the most important aspect of quality of life because once the battery dies you are left empty. Relationships are the ultimate aspect to living a full and happy life. Thanks to Sang-woo's grandmother we see that unconditional love is possible and can change even the hardest of hearts.

The Way Home (2001 Korean film with subtitles, PG, 88 min.): suitable for children of middle school age

Field of Interest/Specialty: East Asia
Posted On: 01/19/2018

Name: Jayme Hadley
Grade/Subjects Taught: 1st grade teacher, self-contained classroom
School: Mary Queen of Apostles
The Way Home (2001 Korean film with subtitles, PG, 88 min.): suitable for children of middle school age
In this award winning Korean film, a young mother falls upon hard times and is forced to send her young son, Sang-woo, to live with his mute grandmother in her small rural village. The difference in way of life from the comforts of his home in Seoul is drastic – with no electricity, running water or fast food he must learn to live in his new surroundings but doesn’t take to it well. He was very spoiled and showed great disrespect to his grandmother. In this very touching story, the selfish, bratty young boy finally comes around and begins to understand the unfaltering love of his grandmother.
As an adult, I enjoyed the storyline and meaning behind this film. However, I would not be able to use it in my early childhood classroom due to its pace and language. It at times was very slow moving and I do not feel it would be able to keep the attention of young children very well. In addition, the subtitles may be difficult for young children to keep up with depending on their reading level. In addition, it does contain some harsh name calling and mild swearing that would be inappropriate for children of a young age.
I definitely feel it could be used in a middle school or early high school aged classroom as an introduction into rural Korea, Korean cultural, Korean language and writing, and, of course, a lesson on family loyalty. It could also easily be used for a language arts lesson on character analysis, development, and comparison.

Patience and Kindness

Field of Interest/Specialty: English/German
Posted On: 01/22/2017

Have you ever been so annoyed with the behavior of a character in a movie that you’ve felt compelled to yell at the screen? Allow me to introduce you to 7-year-old Sang-woo.
The Way Home tells the story of Sang-woo, whose mother has dropped him off to live with his elderly grandmother for a month or two. Many children love spending time with their grandparents, but The Way Home introduces a few challenges to make Sang-woo’s stay less than ideal in his eyes. The first challenge is that Sang-woo is from the city, but his grandmother’s very humble home is lost deep in the countryside. Without his usual creature comforts and favorite foods, life proves boring and uncomfortable. The second challenge that makes Sang-woo long for his home is that his grandmother is mute and hard of hearing; communication is a struggle, and Sang-woo doesn’t like having to deal with this old woman whom he calls “retarded.” Sang-woo mistreats his elderly grandmother in too many ways to count, but her only response is patient kindness--she loves her grandson, and wants him to be happy. As time passes, grandma’s patience begins to pay off, and Sang-woo learns about self-sacrifice.
This touching Korean film from director Jeong-hyang Lee is rated PG, and would be suited for any students in the upper elementary grades or higher. The movie is in Korean with easy-to-follow English subtitles. It would fit well in a language arts classroom or a social studies classroom. The film works as a vehicle for showing rural Korean life, for establishing basic cultural awareness of Korea, and for teaching theme and character development. Students with no cultural awareness of Korea would have no trouble understanding the movie, so it could make a fine introduction to a unit, or it could also work as a stand-alone study.

The Way Homw

Field of Interest/Specialty: General
Posted On: 12/01/2015

A young Korean boy, Sang-woo, was sent to stay with his grandmother while his mother went into the city to find a job. The grandmother lived a very simple, basic, "old-school" life compared to what Sang-woo was used to. He lived his life in a technological time. He was very spoiled, disrespectful, and bitter about being left with his grandmother. She was a hard worker and did all things by hand. She made the best of what she had. Sang-woo was very mean to his grandmother because of his bitterness other way of life. He saw her as ignorant and dumb. I the beginning while he stayed with her he wanted nothing to do with her. As time went on he warmed up to her, helped her, and had appreciation and concerned for her. Before he went home he taught her and showed her "I miss you" and "I'm sick" so she could send these things to him. Thought the entire film she showed him endless love and kindness even though he did not.
I think this is a great film to jut show children a different aspect on life. Also it shows that you need to have an appreciation for all peoples ways of life. She made the best with what she had and was content. Many of us would not be happy In this given situation which is how Sang-woo felt. All is all it was a great film. I think it would be great for my 5th grade students monitoring the curse words. They could do many comparisons to his life in the city, life with his grandmother, and their own lives.

Review of The Way Home by Kelsey Spang

Field of Interest/Specialty: Social Studies
Posted On: 12/01/2015

The Way Home is a wonderful story about a young Korean boy learning about unconditional love, respect, and humility. Sang-woo, the protagonist of the story stays with his maternal grandmother while his mother looks for a job. Sang-woo is used to a more "sophisticated" way of live in Seoul than in the country side hut his grandmother inhabits. Obviously angry at being pulled from his comfortable life, Sang-woo begins his stay with his grandmother showing her disrespect and ungratefulness. Sang-woo's mute grandmother responds to Sang-woo with nothing but unconditional love. Through much of the story, Sang-woo seems to test his grandmother's limits but she continually shows him love without fail. As the story unfolds, Sang-woo learns the values of love, respect, and humility as modeled by his grandmother. Towards the end of the movie, Sang-woo truly comes to care for his grandmother and even tries to teach her how to write so they can stay in contact. He finally writes post cards addressed to himself for her with "I Miss You" and "I'm Sick" so Sang-woo will know how is grandmother is doing.
I would suggest this movie to a middle school or high school classroom. This would be an excellent resource to show an example of Korean values or even provide a small glimpse of the Korean country-side way of life. This lesson could be paired with the study of Korean culture, political system, or even geography. This video is spoken in Korean but also has English subtitles. Following along with the subtitles should not be an issue. I highly recommend this film!

Movie Review “The Way Home”

Field of Interest/Specialty: Early Childhood Education
Posted On: 01/07/2015

Shirley Hough
Movie Review
December 2, 2014
“The Way Home”
This movie was one of the best movies that I have watched in quite awhile.
It is a Korean film about Sang-woo, a seven year old boy from the city, and his elderly grandmother, a deaf mute who has spent her entire life in a small rural village. Sang-woo’s mother is forced to send him to live with his grandmother. The story begins with Sang-woo’s shock at what he finds. His grandmother had no electricity, indoor plumbing or access to fast-food restaurants, or a TV. Sang-woo was not happy to be living with his grandmother and he rejects anything that she tries to do for him. In the movie Sang-woo shows his frustration by referring to her as a “retard’. He did not adjust well to having to use a “pot” instead of having an indoor bathroom. Sang-woo seems to be used to having all the up to date toys and gadgets of a city boy. Once his game boy runs out of batteries Sang-woo begs his grandmother to buy him more batteries and promises her that his mom would pay her back. When she does not understand him he pushes her. Once when she fell asleep he stole her hairpin and went to town trying to sell it so he could buy batteries. They had a tough time communicating with one another. The boy tried to ignore his grandmother and kept his back to her most of the time. With her eyesight failing she asks Sung-woo to thread her needle so that she could sew her shoes. Later in the movie he took her shoes and threw them away.
His grandmother was very poor and lived a very hard life. Along with her being a deaf mute her bones were deformed and she could not stand up straight. She was bent over so badly that her face looked at the ground. The area was very rough for her to walk yet she did it many times. Sung-woo never helped her with anything she was carrying, but walked in front of her.
One day she asked him what type of food he liked and he told her’ McDonald’s, Pizza, and fried chicken.” His grandmother went to town and brought back a live rooster and she cooked it for him. When she told him that it was chicken he cried and told her that his life “sucked”. He fell asleep and she took her blanket and covered him with it. When he awoke the next morning he ate the chicken.
Sang-woo made friends with a young girl. He asked his grandmother for mousse for his hair. In turn he lets her trim his hair. When he sees how much hair she cut he cried.
Grandmother saw that he needed new shoes so she went along the roadside and sold her fruits and vegetables. She takes him to the store and he gets a new pair of tennis shoes.
Grandmother wrapped his game boy and tried to give it to him. He tore it partly open and threw it and called her a “dummy”. He did not realize that his grandmother had put money in the gift so that he could have batteries.
He had brought some wooden puzzles and blocks from the city and his grandmother was trying to put them together. She had a very hard time and never did accomplish that task. He tried to teach her to write. She had a hard time doing this also. He would not share his crayons with her when she tried to use them.
As time went on his heart began to soften and he felt love for his grandmother. His threaded the needle for her without her asking, he covered her up when she fell asleep just as she had him.
He went to the city to play and on his way home he fell and was hurt. Grandmother met him on his way home and tried to care for his cuts. She rustled his hair letting him know that she cared. Shortly after this he received a letter from his mother telling him that she would be coming to get him.
When his mother arrived Sung-woo had mixed emotions about leaving his grandmother. As he was leaving he went to the back of the bus and rubbed his hand over his heart so that she knew that he loved her.
This story was filled with some humor and many examples of a grandmother’s love. At times Sung-woo was very mean and spoiled and showed so much disrespect to his grandmother. As time went on the love that they had for one another was heartwarming. They found their own way to communicate even though she could not hear or speak. I would recommend this film to everyone.

The Way Home

Field of Interest/Specialty: ancient civilization and geography
Posted On: 11/16/2014

Plucked from a modern society, Sang-Woo is taken to live with his grandmother while his mother looks for work back home in the city. Sang-woo doesn't understand the traditional village life and calls his grandmother every name he can think of since she is a mute and he doesn't know how to communicate with her. He doesn't know how to fend for himself as his grandmother patiently helps him adjust. His anger at being left there is expressed through his disrespectful behavior such as throwing food, throwing tantrums and name calling. But in the middle of the night when he has to go to the bathroom, he quickly learns he has to use a chamber pot and he is disgusted.
He clings to his electronic video game that keeps him distracted from his new life and connected to his old life. But his batteries die out and he just has to have new batteries to be able to survive in his new world. Each day his grandmother selflessly takes care of him and works hard to make sure his clothes are clean and he has food to eat. He steals her only valuable treasure - her hairpin - while she is sleeping on the porch and runs to buy batteries. But, he had no clue how far he had to walk and how hard the trip would be. His grandmother was waiting for when he returns empty handed, tired and crying.
He so desperately wants KFC but his grandmother only understands chicken. So she takes her him and some melons to the market and tries to sell them on the street or trade them. To get to the market they have to walk far and wait for the bus. On the way back, Sang-woo decides he is riding the bus with some neighbors because he is smitten with the neighbor girl, leaving his grandmother and the chicken behind. He waits for her when he gets off the bus thinking she will be on the next bus, but she does not return. Instead she returns the next morning walking form the market in the rain all night. She make the chicken for him and he is angry that she didn't understand Kentucky Fried Chicken. He throws the food in another tantrum. His grandmother takes ill and he cares for her. Once recovered, he returns to his usual spoiled self.
Sang-woo's grandmother needs him to thread her needle for sewing and this frustrates him that she cannot do it herself. From the beginning he would begrudgingly thread the needle and throw it back to her.
As the film continues, the viewer can see growth in Sang-woo but it is not consistent. His mother finally returns and now he is genuinely concerned about his grandmother. He threads as many needles as he can for her before he has to leave and he tries to teach her to write to him showing her the words for "I am sick" and "I miss you."
The final scene of him boarding the bus and signing to her from the back window gives the viewer hope that no all was lost on him from his grandmother's unconditional love.

Film Review for: The Way Home

Field of Interest/Specialty: Asian Studies
Posted On: 02/22/2013

The Way Home
Director- Jeong-hyang Lee
The Way Home, a Korean film produced by Jeong-hyang Lee in 2002, won the Grand Bell Award from the Motion Picture Association of Korea. The award was for excellence in film in South Korea.
The story plot is comprised of a single mother who loses her job in Seoul and must take her son to the countryside to live with her mother. Her mother is mute, and illiterate, living in poverty in the country.The grandson, an extremely spoiled young man, makes it clear both verbally and physically that he does not want to be left in a situation he does not control. The differences between his urban upbringing and the rural life of his grandmother are too great.
As the plot unfolds, the grandson must learn how to deal with poverty, rural living and relationships. He must learn how to make friends and realize he is not the central focus. I felt the grandmother was an excellent actress who portrayed patience with both her life and her grandson's lack of emotions. This was the actress’s first picture and she left viewers with a feeling of serenity and enduring patience for all. Never complaining, she handled all difficulties with aplomb. The scenery of the Korean countryside was exquisite.
The message of the film is that at the story’s completion, when the grandson’s mother returns to take him back to the city, the young man has changed for the better. He has left notes for his grandmother and waves goodbye to her.
This film while having an excellent plot does not follow through. I found discrepancies with Korean culture as regards respect to elders and family ties. The mother makes no attempt to help the grandmother with her abject poverty and at the end, while she indicates she will return for the New Year holiday, leaves immediately with her son. I also felt that the grandson should have shown more depth of feeling. It wasn't until the ending that you realized he had changed his position with his grandmother and it was too late in the script to make an impact.
The film would have made a greater impression if they showed the grandson returning or sending small gifts to his grandmother. I was left wondering if the young man would retain some of his developed sympathies for people or if he would return to his previous beliefs.

Film Review: The Way Home

Field of Interest/Specialty: Social Studies
Posted On: 02/12/2013

The Way Home, a Korean film with English subtitles, is a movie that beautifully portrays the power of a grandma’s unconditional love. Sang-woo, a terribly spoiled, undisciplined 7-year-old boy from the city is sent by his mother to live with his grandmother. Grandmother has spent her entire life in a mountainous, rural village. Sang-woo receives the shock of his little life when he discovers living with Grandma means doing without that, which up until now, he took very much for granted. Despite her best efforts, Sang-woo takes his frustrations out on his grandmother, especially because her muteness makes it hard for him to communicate with her. Gradually, Sang-woo discovers that what he thought was important may not be after all.
This film would be excellent to use with a group of students that may be struggling with social skills. The actions portrayed by Sang-woo could be analyzed, discussed, and used as a spring board to students’ brainstorming ideas or suggestions that could be more appropriate or respectful behavior.

A moving and complex tale

Field of Interest/Specialty: East/SE Asia & Global Studies
Posted On: 08/11/2012

Michael-Ann Cerniglia
Senior School History Teacher
Sewickley Academy
The Way Home is a South Korean film, directed by Jeong-hyang Lee, which juxtaposes urban vs. rural life and tradition vs. modernity. The story begins when Sang-woo, an urban seven-year-old, is left with his grandmother in rural South Korea. The boy behaves like a spoiled brat, who is also jaded and bitter that his exhausted and emotionally distant single mother has left him with what amounts to a stranger in his small and self-centered world. His grandmother’s simple home maintains all the comforts the old woman needs, but sorely lacks the comforts Sang-woo demands. His treatment of his grandmother is painful to watch, as are his interactions with the local children and townspeople. However, the film offers moments of humor which are apropos, even if only because they offer the viewer fleeting moments of deserved revenge, which his grandmother never delivers.
I used this film with Grade 6 students, showed it to my five year old at home, and could see it used in high school classrooms as well. The pacing is slow but engaging and the subtitles are easily readable. Even for a child unable to read or keep up with the text, the images are fairly self-explanatory and adult-guided prompts make this accessible for virtually any age.
This film is also an excellent tool for combining media literacy with the study of East Asia. The relationship between the grandmother and Sang-woo is an example of Confucianism (or, rather, a non-example) and her lifestyle and response to the boy invite a discussion of Taoism. The boy’s deplorable irreverence to his grandmother caused me a visceral reaction of discomfort and unease. It seems that, for a society that has historically paid so much respect to their elders, this film is a cautionary tale against the narcissistic values of its youngest generation. In turn, his grandmother’s exceedingly gracious patience is commendable, though questionable. I continually asked myself, “how could she allow him to get away with that?” However, my respect for her grew immeasurable when her patience wins his love and kindness in the end.
The discussion of values and ethics is another way to approach this film. I would guess that most viewers would characterize this illiterate, elderly woman as “wise.” The story shows—not tells—the viewer that her survival skills far exceed those of the young boy, who was unable to even eliminate his own bowels without plumbing, until she provided him a pot. When we say that society is “developing” do we mean for the better? Is city life better than life in the country? Or is it possible for a society with less technology and education to exceed the moral development of more technologically and academically advanced societies?
It should also be noted that Eul-boon Kim, who plays the grandmother, is a longtime resident of the rural village where The Way Home was filmed, and it is her family home that sets the stage for the grandmother’s house. Additionally, she had never seen a film before starring in this, which was a box-office hit in South Korea. It is worth researching her story and the consequences of the film on her life, for discussion with students.