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.

little forest

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.

little forest 2

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.

little forest 1

Little Forest is a subtle story about life and a healing process that can resonate with those who, for one reason or another, left the big city and returned to their rural childhood places. The film doesn’t offer any surprising twists or turns, and neither does it make a viewer shed a tear. Yim Soon-Rye cleverly hides – or perhaps leaves out –  the background story of the protagonist’s mother; the audience does learn something about her, but it is all merely superficial. That said, throughout Hye-won’s stay in the village, we can see her cooking fiercely, using her mother’s recipes; later, when she discovers the emotions hidden behind the daily preparation of meals, she begins to understand a little more about her mother’s puzzling persona – this is what makes Little Forest special in its own way. Through cooking and the character of Hye-won, Yim Soon-rye created a feeling of blissful peace – with Kim Tae-ri being simple, yet sublime in her role.
Little Forest is a very well-crafted film that undoubtedly stands out for its honest portrayal of country life, warming up the audiences hearts with delicious cooking.

 Rating: 4-stars

 

Written by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Sanja Struna

All photos © Watermelon Pictures

 

 

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About viewofkoreancinema

Maggie Gogler is a freelance film producer, production manager and she also works with children. She has a passion for Korean and World Cinema as well as music and arts. Maggie has been interested in cinema since she was 15 and discovered love for Korean films in 2004 when she saw Kim Ki Duk’s The Isle. She supports British and Asian independent film-making and enjoys producing creative and interesting projects. Maggie is the co-founder of View of the Arts and its sister website View of Korean Cinema. Sanja Struna is a freelance translator, occasional writer and a perpetual dreamer. Film is her first and longest-lasting love; since writing is her second, she saw the light a couple of years ago, let the two join hands and entered the field of film journalism. She has honed her knowledge through various film festivals which she either worked for or frequented. She is currently harboring a fascination with all things Korean and condones losing sleep if that means she can watch a good Korean film or drama. Sanja is the editor of View of the Arts and co-founder of View of Korean Cinema.

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