Reflection, a slow pace of life… and life, dictated by the four seasons, are themes, rarely depicted in Korean cinema; instead, more viewers are attracted to the adrenaline-packed productions, full of well-known actors. But 2018 marked a change of tide – the leading female “auteur of Korean New Wave cinema” Yim Soon-rye adopted Little Forest, the two-volume manga of Daisuke Igarashi of the same title, into a subtle and pure story about the life of a young girl who returns to her childhood rural village, Uiseong, in the North Gyeongsang Province. There, the audience follows Hye-won’s (Kim Tae-ri: The Handmaiden) healing journey, with her home cooking and the use of seasonal ingredients – the building bricks of a slow, nature-dependent lifestyle in the countryside.
Kim Tae-ri, an emerging and fearless young actress, portrays Hye-won, a girl who returns to the village after she failed to pass the state exams and broke up with her boyfriend. Upon Hye-won’s return home, she realizes that her mother (the wonderful Moon So-ri) left the home without a word; there is no food to be found, and Hye-won also finds herself having to deal with the house and the land itself – until her return, her ageing aunt took care of the two. Hye-won, who desires to be left alone, tries to carry on with her life; however, this doesn’t last – the news of her being back spreads quickly.
In Uiseong, Hye-won enjoys the company of her two close friends, Jae-ha (Ryu Jun-yeol), who is devoted to his apple trees and rice field, and Eun-sook (Jin Ki-joo), who is bored with her job in a bank and is secretly crushing on Jae-ha. With a different type of existence, Hye-won tells herself that she will return to the capital; any yet, slowly, her life changes and imperceptibly adjusts to the changing seasons and to the pace of everyone’s lives. While she is trying to come to the terms of being back at the village, she also reminiscences on her life with her mother, trying to understand why her mother left her to fend for herself…
Daisuke Igarashi’s manga was already made into two films by the Japanese filmmaker Jun’ichi Mori: Little Forest: Summer/Autumn (2014) and Little Forest: Winter/Spring (2015), both starring Hashimoto Ai. The films faithfully depicted the manga and their four-hour length corresponded to the four seasons beautifully. But even by making the film shorter and by setting her story in Korea, Yim Soon-rye cleverly fitted Igarashi’s story into a full-length movie.
Written by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © Watermelon Pictures