Title: Little Forest
Liteul Poreseuteu (리틀 포레스트 )
Director: Yim Soon-rye (임순례)
Duration: 103 Minuten
Cast: Kim Tae-ri (김태리), Moon So-ri (문소리), Ryu Jun-Yeol (류준열), Jin Ki-Joo (진기주)
Little Forest, or the (in)satiable hunger for the simple things in life
Little Forest is a two-volume manga, created by Japanese mangaka Daisuke Igarashi. The story of a young Japanese girl who returns to her childhood home in the countryside has been adapted into a feature film already by Japanese filmmaker Jun’ichi Mori. He followed the original format and presented the story in two parts: Little Forest: Summer/Autumn (2014) and Little Forest: Winter/Spring (2015). The dream-like quality of the two films inspired a Korean producer to bring the story to attention of Yim Soon-rye, the distinguished Korean New Wave director. She was tired of seeing the big-budgeted action films get all the attention (and the funds) in Korean film industry and was looking to create a smaller, intimate film that would speak to the younger (female) generation of Korea.
The soul of Little Forest is simple and pure – adapting it for Korean audience was, in a way, as easy as it would be adapting it for Austrian, or Slovenian audience. It is the kind of story that can surpass boundaries and speak to audiences everywhere and anywhere. Yim Soon-rye still took great care to wrap it into folds of Korean culture and history, letting it speak through a Korean woman’s experience, weaving the connection and ample metaphors through Korean land and – food. To ensure a steadily charismatic center for the film, Yim cast one of the most promising and versatile actresses of the current generation: Kim Tae-ri, who unsurprisingly turned out to be perfect for the role.
After moving to Seoul to pursue a ‘better life’ and failing at it, Hye-won (Kim Tae-ri) finds herself on the way back to her hometown village of Uiseong, in the North Gyeongsang Province. Her return back home is a lonesome experience – her mother (Moon So-ri) left home as soon as Hye-won turned 18. The house is empty, and so is the pantry – in order to eat, it is up to Hye-won herself to grow and prepare the food. Hye-won reunites with her friends Eun-sook (Jin Ki-joo), who is tired of working at a small-town bank, and Jae-ha (Ryu Jun-yeol), who took over his father’s farm and is thriving even though being a farmer is anything but easy. They are happy to have her back, but Hye-won is at first adamant that she is only back for ‘a couple of days’. But the days turn into weeks, months, and the changing seasons bring about changes in Hye-won’s heart. The cold, hard earth beside the house slowly (and through hard work) turns into a lush field, and one tremendous dish of food after another, connecting mother and daughter, the past and the present, seem to fill the hunger that a city life was never able to satisfy.
With the director Yim’s hand held subtle, but steady, and the wonderful, vivid cinematography that brings every frame to life (and makes the viewer’s mouth water with every on-screen dish), this film is not meant to challenge and excite the viewer, but instead offers them a respite and a feeling of soul-deep healing.
A portrait of the director
Korean New Wave Cinema film directors include globally famous names, such as Bong Joon-ho (Parasite, Snowpiercer) and Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, The Handmaiden), but there are a precious few female names to be found among them – not really surprising, given how male-oriented Korean film industry has traditionally been. Yim Soon-rye (임순례) is an exception to this rule: a female director who decidedly stands out from the Korean New Wave ranks.
Yim is a graduate of English Literature at Hanyang University; she received a master’s degree in Film Studies at Université Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis and delved into filmmaking right after her return to South Korea in 1993.
She first worked as an assistant director, but made her presence in the industry clear right off the bat – in 1994, she directed her first short Promenade in the Rain, which went on to win the Grand Prize and the Press Award at the 1st Seoul International Short Film Festival. In 1996, Yim presented her directorial debut: Three Friends. This study of social pressure and Korean masculinity won Yim the NETPAC award at the 1996 Busan International Film Festival.
Her work in the years that followed was not without struggle, but she showed that she has a talent for taking on interesting projects that were met with critical acclaim. Her 2001 feature, Waikiki Brothers, won several awards, including the so-called “Korean Oscar”, the Best Film Award at the 2002 Baeksang Arts Awards.
Her third feature, a female-driven sports drama Forever the Moment (2008) became a commercial hit as well as a film critic favourite, winning Best Film both at the 2008 Baeksang Arts Awards and the 2008 Blue Dragon Film Awards, earning Yim the title Woman Filmmaker of the Year.
Her most recent success was the 2014 film featuring real-life events; a whistleblower anonymously tipped off a local investigative program that an internationally renowned biotech professor fabricated research in human embryonic stem cell cloning, making it one of the biggest global scientific frauds in the past decades. Whistle Blower was heavily nominated, but did not win a lot of awards, and Yim patiently waited for the next project that would capture her interest and show promise. The project turned out to be Little Forest.