LITTLE FOREST 리틀 포레스트 Delicately Cooks Up a Serene Tale of Enjoying the Simple Life
Director: Yim Soon-rye
Cast: Kim Tae-ri, Moon So-ri, Ryu Jun-yeol, Jin Ki-joo
Runtime: 103 minutes
You have been warned: do not watch Little Forest if you are hungry. Cooking and eating dominate the runtime of the film, with every sizzle and every crunch torturously captured by director Yim Soon-rye. Sans an empty stomach, Little Forest is a feel-good movie through and through, vivaciously using the themes of food and nature to remind its audience that the hectic city life might not be the best possible life.
The film begins with youth Hye-won (Kim Tae-ri) returning to her country home after failing to pass the national qualification exam to become a teacher. Coupled with her malaise of city life and uncertainty about her future, she seeks answers amidst the picturesque Korean countryside, all while whipping up delicious dishes with farm-grown seasonal ingredients.
Not long after her arrival, Hye-won is joined by her two childhood friends, the spunky Eun-sook (Jin Ki-joo) and introspective Jae-ha (Ryu Jun-yeol). The chemistry between the three actors are infectious; it is almost too convincing that they are actually childhood friends. They handily carry the film’s light-hearted and candid dialogue with their performances, leaving the audience feeling like their friendship never missed a beat despite their brief separation.
While a love triangle is teased, its resolution might leave a few unsatisfied. However, I felt that this was a refreshing take that added to the film’s ending; with things up in the air, it made me want the further adventures of the trio. I felt if there was a typical K-Drama type ending, it would have probably betrayed the slow, slice-of-life pace of the film.
If their friendship was the sweet dessert, Hye-won’s spiritual journey would be the film’s hearty main dish, carried by Kim Tae-ri’s performance. Beyond the warm friendship and her doubts of the future, she is also ‘haunted’ by memories of her mother (Moon So-ri), who mysteriously disappeared years ago, coming back in flashbacks throughout the film. Kim’s cherubic looks, emotive range, and how she navigates the relatable issues of being lost on the edge of adulthood all make for a sympathetic lead to root for.
To me, those flashbacks are the high points of Little Forest. Most of them come as Hye-Won prepares her meals, recalling how her mother made them. It is through these sequences where the details of Hye-won’s relationship with her mother is revealed, crescendoing to a tear-jerker by the end of the film as Hye-won figures out why her mother disappeared.
The flashbacks never feel jarring to the film’s meditative pace, effortlessly blending into its narrative through clever shots and framing. These sequences lend a homely feel that pervades throughout the film. Little Forest contrasts the warmth of home-cooked food and country life with the soullessness of convenience store food and city life. There are only glimpses of the latter, with most of the film using the picturesque countryside of North Gyeongsang as its background.
Each season brings new tasks and new scenery for our characters, and they are all captured with calm and serenity. These are supplemented by the aforementioned excellent sound design and a soothing soundtrack.
Little Forest is a lovely detox amidst the tumble of city life and the uncertainty of the future. It made me want to cook, made me want to make a permanent escape to a farm – and most importantly – made me want to eat. The film filled my heart as much as the dishes filled its characters’ stomachs.
As part of the 2019 edition of the Korean Film Festival, catch Little Forest on 25 October and 27 October at Shaw Theatres, Lido. All public screenings of the 2019 Korean Film Festival line up will be of free admission. RSVP at https://www.koreanfilmfestivalsg.com/
In the meanwhile, check out the film’s trailer here:
About Korean Film Festival 2019
Organised by the The Embassy of the Republic of Korea with support from the Singapore Film Society, the 2019 Korea Film Festival is one of the main highlights of the Korea Festival and is a perennial favourite amongst locals and resident Koreans. This year’s line-up, featuring eight critically-acclaimed award-winning and nominated films from various national and international film festivals, will be screened over two weekends from 18 to 27 October.
All public screenings of the 2019 Korean Film Festival line up will be of free admission. RSVP at https://www.koreanfilmfestivalsg.com/