My sister gave my mom a small collection of DVDs last Christmas. At the time, I scoffed at the gesture. Since my mom works such long hours, she doesn’t have time to do much after getting home from work other than make dinner and water her plants. She mostly watches Korean television, and usually nods off after just one or two episodes of something. I didn’t think she’d ever have time to watch a full-length film, which may have just been me projecting, since lately I can’t stay awake for a movie after around 7pm.
As I had predicted, these DVDs remained in their plastic packaging well past the holiday season. But a few weeks ago, something fortuitous happened: My mom and I happened to take a sick day at the same time. I don’t even remember the last time I saw my mother outside of work in the middle of the afternoon. Maybe my graduation. At any rate, this serendipitous occasion allowed us to finally break into her movie collection.
The first movie we watched was The Way Home (Jibeuro in Korean), directed by Lee Jeong-hyang. My sister gave my mom this movie because she’d seen it before and thought it was cute.
And indeed it is. (Look at that woman’s face!) But it’s not as rollicking and full of generation gap humor as the movie poster suggests. The story is about an impudent young boy whose mother leaves him in the care of his grandmother in the countryside while she looks for a job in the city for 2 months. The grandmother is mute, possibly deaf, and walks carefully with a severely hunched back. You spend most of the movie feeling sorry for her and wishing that the boy would just hurry up and show her the filial piety that one expects from a good little Korean boy. Even though you know it’s going to happen, in the end, the movie really does satisfy in an unexpected way.
That first movie-watching experience was so novel and fun for me and my mom (her listening to the dialogue and me reading the English subtitles and only very occasionally understanding enough Korean to question a particular translation – yippee!) that we’ve made it a point to watch the other movies together since then, even if it means later nights for us. Everytime I put the DVD in, I make my mom promise to stay awake. She’s been pretty good so far.
The second DVD we watched together was Treeless Mountain, a 2008 film directed by So Yong Kim. It follows two very young girls whose mother leaves them with their aunt for an indeterminate amount of time while she searches for her deadbeat estranged husband. Because of this striking thematic similarity to The Way Home, I have decided that “Mother Leaves Child(ren) With X While Searching for Y” has its own rich tradition in Korean cinema.
I noticed a lot of non-Korean names in the credits. The storytelling in Treeless Mountain struck me as a little bit more European – not quite as overtly emotional as most Korean dramas. This lent a cooler, more detached feel to the movie. That said, the little girls are adorable, but not in the same way that the grandmother is in The Way Home. The older sister, Jin, is smart, pretty, fiercely motivated, and well-intentioned in a way that seems beyond her years. The younger one, Bin, is impulsive and somewhat food-obsessed. She’s not cute in a traditional way, but I truly enjoy her wild face. She looks like a Chinese New Year dragon!
My mom stayed awake for the entirety of both these films! She enjoyed clucking her tongue at the boy’s disprespectful antics in The Way Home along with me, and she seemed amused by the similarities between my sister & I and Jin & Bin. Coming up: Spring Summer Fall Winter… and Spring, or The Film That She Fell Asleep To.