Watching South Korean film “Little Forest” was a relaxing experience for me. When I came into the screening room in last evening, I happened to feel tired and a bit drowsy, but then I found myself gradually refreshed and entertained by numerous small nice moments in the movie, and I was pleased and satisfied when its end credits rolled.
Kim Tae-ri, who previously drew our attention via her terrific performance in “The Handmaiden” (2016), plays Hye-won, a young woman who comes back to her remote rural hometown on one cold winter day. When she was very young, she and her parents came to this village due to the illness of her father, who came to die a few years later. After his death, young Hye-won and her mother lived together in their cozy house for next several years, but then Hye-won’s mother suddenly left Hye-won when Hye-won was about to graduate from her high school, and Hye-won has never seen her mother again since she also left the village for going to a college in Seoul.
After her college graduation, Hye-won and her boyfriend took a civil service examination together, but only her boyfriend passed the examination. While not so sure about what to do next, she eventually decided that she needs some free private time for relaxing herself and thinking over her future, and her family house, which looks fairly nice although nobody has lived there for several years, looks like an ideal place for that.
Although she wants to be alone for a while, a few people in the village soon come to see her. She is greeted by her aunt who also lives in the village, and then she meets her two old friends Jae-ha (Ryu Jun-yeol) and Eun-sook (Jin Ki-joo). While Jae-ha has worked as a farmer since he returned from Seoul a few years ago, Eun-sook has worked in a local bank, and she often complains to Hye-won about how boring and annoying her job is.
Hye-won’s first days in the house do not look that good as it seems there is nothing to eat in the house, but, as a woman who learned a lot from her mother’s skillful cooking, she soon finds ways to solve that problem. During her very first day, she picks a frozen Chinese cabbage from a vegetable garden near the house, and then she makes a bowl of modest vegetable soup from that. Although the result does not look particularly tasty, she feels satisfied as filling her stomach enough, and she soon goes further as getting more cooking materials for her later.
She initially thought that she would stay in the village just for a few weeks, but then she finds herself spending time there more than expected. When spring eventually comes, she plants potatoes in a nearby field, and that is just one of many things to be done by her during spring days. While she still lives alone in her house, there is a dog given to her by Jae-ha, and he and Eun-sook often visit her for spending time with her.
Meanwhile, Hye-won’s cooking becomes more interesting with this seasonal change. I like her creative way of preparing a good dish from cabbage, and I also enjoyed watching how she makes homemade rice wine. At one point, she deep-fries not only vegetables but also little tree flowers, and I was certainly curious about how those deep-fried flowers actually taste like.
As summer comes, Hye-won becomes more active than before as getting more accustomed to her new environment. She frequently works on fields, and she also spends more time with her friends. When she officially breaks up with her boyfriend, that certainly brings her a bit closer to Jae-ha, who seems to have some feeling toward her but still does not completely end the relationship with his ex-girlfriend as shown from one amusing scene in the film.
While steadily maintaining its leisurely narrative pacing, the screenplay by Hwang Seong-gu, which is based on the Japanese novel of the same name by Daisuke Igarashi, slowly glides from one moment to another, and director Yim Soon-rye did a competent job of vividly establishing different seasonal moods on the screen. While the cold ambiance of winter scenes makes a good visual contrast with the warmth of spring scenes, the hot but lively atmosphere of summer scenes is palpable to say the least, and the bountifulness of autumn scenes is exemplified well by a lovely wide shot showing wide rice paddies almost ready for harvest.
As the emotional center of the movie, Kim Tae-ri brings lots of spirit to her character, and she gives another good performance in her advancing career. Right from her very first scene, she instantly earns our affection, and she effortlessly conveys Hye-won’s gradual change through her emotional journey. In case of the supporting performers in the movie, Ryu Jun-yeol and Jin Ki-joo are solid in their respective roles, and Moon So-ri is also fine as Hye-won’s mother.
Overall, “Little Forest” is a modest but charming product which simply does as much as intended, but it has a number of good things to cherish, and I appreciate that although I still do not have much interest in spending time in countryside as your typical urban guy. To me, the movie often feels like a fantasy with some unrealistic aspects, but it is enjoyable as well as soothing at least, and I am fine with that.