As part of our continuing adventures in Koreatown (and real Chinatown, which is actually Monterey Park), the Boy and I set off to see another (we hoped) great double-feature, this one starting with an unlikely story of a young woman who returns to her family home after her mother abandoned her.
This is the third movie we’d seen in the past 15 months starring Tae-Ri Kim (The Handmaiden (2016), 1987: When The Day Comes being the other two) and she remains tremendously appealing here, in a wildly different role. Here, she’s basically carrying the movie.
In Little Forest she plays Hye-won, a girl who has come back to her rural town after college, and after finding the working world of Seoul* (and the materialistic pursuits her peers seem to be obsessed with) unfulfilling. The catch is that on her last day of high school, her mother straight up abandoned her, so she has very mixed feelings about her mother, about the house, and about life generally. The movie is Hye-won’s journey from a lost, somewhat bitter, self-involved girl to one who comes to understand her mother better—primarily through cooking.
So, yeah, we have a movie that would be perfectly at home here on the Hallmark channel. The Boy and I loved it (me more than he, though).
Basically, Hye-won returns to this old residence without any real preparation. She starts working the ground, though, and through flashbacks we learn that food is the metaphor that guides her life. So, Seoul is fake and shallow, as is the food in Seoul. This is contrasted with many scenes of her mother teaching her how to cook, and how to plant vegetables and herbs in a way to get the best results.
There’s a sorta love triangle between her and a childhood friend, Eun-Sook who is jealous of her and of the attention paid her by another childhood friend, Jae-Ha (Jun Yeol-Ryu, of last year’s A Heart Blackened). Eun-Sook is envious because she didn’t go to college in Seoul, doesn’t know why Hye-won came back, and definitely miffed by the powerful attraction Jae-Ha feels toward her. It’s not much of a triangle, though, because Hye-won is just not playing. She’s there to figure herself out.
Besides the good-looking cast playing likable (and flawed) characters, and—like almost every Korean movie we see out here—every shot being an excuse to show something beautiful (or at least aesthetically intriguing), this movie works for me a whole lot because Hye-won starts out with a one-sided anger toward her mother, who has been a single mom from a rather young age and never had a life of her own, but really devoted herself to her child nonetheless, and slowly begins to see how much her mother gave her, and in a low-key way has always sought to be in communication with her. The titular “Little Forest” begins to make sense by the end.
There’s no high drama, action, or wacky hijinks, so I suppose most people won’t like it. I have to guess, really, since there’s no RT up for it, and only 212 votes on IMDB (which is mostly meaningless these days). The cast is good looking but there’s no sex or nudity—Handmaiden notwithstanding, Korean and Chinese films tend to be very modest—so that’s probably another strike.
I dunno. I like movies about people. The Boy backs me up. Your loss if you don’t look it up.
*I think it’s Seoul. It’s usually Seoul. Sometimes they talk about Gangnam, but that’s actually just part of Seoul. Might have Bhusan, though, which is the next biggest city.