[ENTERTAINMENT]Filmmaker draws on rural setting, villagers

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[ENTERTAINMENT]Filmmaker draws on rural setting, villagers

The director Lee Jeong-hyang won much acclaim for her lighthearted debut film, "Art Museum by the Zoo" ("Misulgwan Yeob Dongmulwan," 1998). The romantic comedy about two very different people trying to write a screenplay together was the third most popular film of the year.

After four years, Lee is finally back with a new film, titled "The Way Home" ("Jib-eu-ro"), featuring a cast of nonprofessional actors. The film opens on Friday.

This movie tells the story of a 6-year-old boy, Sang-woo, from the city who must live with his 77-year-old grandmother one summer out in the extremely rural country.

The grandson hates his grandmother's mundane and boring life, far preferring video games and cola to the sedate pace of the country. But in the end, the grandmother's devotion wins over the grandson, and the two grow very close. The grandmother is mute, and is supposed to represent nature, while the boy represents modern city life.

In the end credits, Lee dedicates the movie to "all maternal grandmothers in this country." It was the direct result of her own experiences. "My mother was an only child," Lee said, "and so I lived with my maternal grandmother since I was very young. When she died two years ago, I decided to make this film."

In the film, the grandmother's love may seem too strong to be believed, but that is what Lee experienced. "I wonder," Lee said, "if all grandmothers might possess that kind of absolute, impeccably enduring love. In truth, like Sang-woo, I was not a good, docile grandchild. I blew up at my grandmother, I even through fits at her. But during the 36 years I lived with her, she never once was angry with me."

Some people have called the film too melodramatic, but Lee does not mind. "I never dreamed people would cry so much," Lee said laughing. "But the poignancy was certainly intentional."

Except for Sangwoo and Sangwoo's mother, all other actors and extras are from a secluded mountain village in North Chungcheong province. It was a daring move by the young filmmaker. "As I was writing the screenplay," she said, "I became convinced that to use professional actors would be unfitting for this movie. Of course, everyone was adamantly against it. But I felt that once I decided on the village where the movie would be set, I knew there would be a grandmother who would fit the profile. And indeed there was."

Lee said that she was not really aiming to make a documentary; but she hoped that by casting real villagers there would be a certain rustic honesty to the film.

The producers said that after the shoot, the village was unofficially called "Acting village" because the residents became so immersed in acting. The credits of the film even list which villagers owned the animals used in the film: "Mad cow, belonging to Mr. Ra Byeong-gu" and "Hound dog, belonging to Samdolli."

"For some of them," Lee said, "attending the movie preview was their very first outing to a cinema. I was amazed at their resilience and level of concentration during the shooting. If I used megastars, that effect could not have been achieved."

by Ki Seon-min

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