Review: Maeumui Gohyang (A Hometown In Heart, 1949)

a hometown in heart

Home is where the heart is, or so they say!

Screenplay By: Il-Byeong Kwak
Directed By: Yong-Kyu Yoon

Do-Seong is a simple little boy, he wants a home that he feels he belongs in. That’s the crux of Maeumui Gohyang, and it is what provides the film with equal amounts of tragedy, hope, and heartbreak. The little boy in question has not led a pleasant life, but a woman comes along who offers him a potentially better life. This isn’t a Hollywood production and that means the story doesn’t go where one expects it to go. The ending is a complete reversal of what I expected based on where the film appeared to be headed. A simple tale about a simple boy that manages to connect with the complexity of human emotions; a unique film in its simple complexity.

At times during Maeumui Gohyang I found myself with an almost shit eating grin on my face. At other times I carried a frown, and were I fully human I may even have cried in a few different spots. The key for me was that none of these emotions came from a place of manipulation. I’m not inherently opposed to manipulation from a movie, but it is refreshing to take in a movie where emotions are earned through character and honesty. I didn’t feel despair for Do-Seong because of the score or a heart tugging speech. I felt despair because of the situation his character was placed in, not because of any outside machinations taking place.

The range of emotions on display in Maeumui Gohyang are mightily impressive. To say they run the gamut would be an understatement. Yong-Kyu Yoon masterfully sets his characters in place so that they can tell the films story and capture the most emotion. He trusts his story and his actors, allowing them to do the lion’s share of the heavy work. In Yoon-ssi’s hands the camera takes on the role of the observer. It truly is documenting what is taking place during the time frame of the film, no more and no less. In Maeumui Gohyang the camera is silent, refusing to intrude, always keeping from entering the world of the characters. This could have created a distance between the viewer and the action of the film, but that’s not the achieved effect. Rather, the observational nature of the camera allows the film to have a more natural, and by extension, emotional, feel.

There’s a part of me that wishes the timing of the mother character had been handled better. Her showing up when she does is far too coincidental in a film that is about overcoming fate and doing away with the notion of your lot in life. That’s the largest complaint I have against Maeumui Gohyang, and that speaks volumes for the quality of the film. Maeumui Gohyang is the first film I’ve seen from the formerly united Korea. I’m hoping it will be the first of many great films I see as I explore the cinematic history of Korea, South Korea, and North Korea. Even if Maeumui Gohyang is the only great film I see from Korea, that doesn’t change its status as a great movie and a highly emotional journey.





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