Starring Kim Tae-ri. In Korean, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable
If the gentle, female-centred tone of Little Forest makes a profound contrast with the adrenalin-fueled stories we usually get from South Korea, that’s partly because it’s a boiled-down remake of two Japanese films, each two hours long, taken from a hit manga by Daisuke Igarashi.
One distinction in this piquant tale of youthful homecoming is that it is the ninth feature for Yim Soon-rye, a hallmark for any female director, in Korea or elsewhere.
Another is a remarkable performance from Kim Tae-ri, who instantly charms as Hye-won, a woman in her early 20s newly returned from a sour Seoul experience to the rural village to which she moved as a child, when her dad was dying. Now her enigmatic mother is nowhere to be seen, although their tidy little home is still well-stocked with useful cooking implements. Good thing, since “I came back because I got hungry,” she tells a relative. She’s not kidding.
Her two childhood friends think there must be more to it—a failed romance, or something. The snarky but playful Eun-sook (Jin Ki-joo) stuck around for a rare white-collar job, in a local bank, while the sober, floppy-haired Jae-ha (Ryu Jun-yeol) gave up university to work on his father’s farm. Naturally, Eun-sook has always been into Jae-ha, while he only has eyes for our lead gal.
That sounds like standard YA fare, but the movie isn’t interested in typical conflicts. And Hye-won is more interested in food, just as she stated. A little forage of her immediate surroundings, and some others, reveals delicious ingredients through all four seasons—mostly built around recipes taught by that absent mother (Moon So-ri, who also starred with Kim in fest fave The Handmaiden), as seen in bittersweet flashbacks.
The dishes themselves are so varied and beautiful, it may take you half the film to notice that none involves meat.
Openhearted but still sharp-minded and quietly mysterious, this may be the least carnivorous movie of the year.