Soon-ae (played by Kim Hye-ja), Sang-beom (played by Song Jae-ho), and Soo-mi (played by Her Jin) are old people who knew each other a very long time ago as students. They don’t anymore- nor do they ever meet as adults, and we don’t find out what happened to the fourth character in the flashbacks either. Going by the generally dark overall tone of “The Way – 2017”, he’s probably dead. Still, memories of those idyllic times pop up in their individual stories, a stark reminder of a the radically different world they now live in.
Soon-ae has a son who never comes to visit her. Sang-beom has a whiny granddaughter (in her twenties) who is at times so loud that she overloads his hearing aid. And Soo-mi…well, I’d rather not get into Soo-mi’s family problems. What all three of their stories have in common is that, left to their own devices, the lead characters have to find friends to dull the pain of their not having anyone to pass on the story of their lives.
That’s an important motivation, because note how none of the friends they make are anywhere near their own age. To the contrary, Soon-ae and Sang-beom end up connecting with vocational contacts because for them, the only human beings they meet on a regular basis from whom they can expect courteous friendly behavior are those who are obligated to give it by work. Soon-ae never has any visitors, and even though Sang-beom still works in his bakery and has customers…well, life could be better, is all.
That’s the main point I got from Director Jung In-bong anyway. That life could be better. You’ve probably heard all about South Korea’s monstrous suicide rate, but what you probably don’t know is that compared to most countries, South Korea’s suicide rate predominantly come from the elderly. Watching “The Way – 2017”, it’s easy to see why. While Soon-ae and Sang-beom don’t have explicitly horrible lives, their retreats into flashback make it clear that they don’t have much to live for anymore.
Soo-mi’s case is an even more explicit and pronounced version of this. She doesn’t have a clue how to cope with distress. Indeed, much like Soon-ae and Sang-beom, Soo-mi can’t even find an outlet because it’s just assumed that old people are supposed to know how to handle themselves, having already lived through so much. That Soon-ae struggles to find a sense of human connection through electronics repair is no coincidence. It’s one of the few things old people are expected to have to ask for help for from younger people.
Yet we can clearly see that the younger people in these stories, when they try to approach the leads as equals with similar foibles, often get just as much out of the social interactions. There’s just that reassuring comfort, of seeing an old person in their eccentricities, still alive, still apparently happy and then realizing, you know, it gets better. While none of the stories in “The Way – 2017” end particularly positively, we are left on a fairly optimistic note. Barring miracles, that has to be enough.
Review by William Schwartz
“The Way – 2017” is directed by Jung In-bong and features Kim Hye-ja, Song Jae-ho, Her Jin and On Joo-wan.
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“[HanCinema’s Film Review] “The Way – 2017″”
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