Little Forest | 리틀 포레스트 (2018)
Hye-won (Kim Tae-ri) was in Seoul, studying for an exam for a teaching licence. In Korea, these exams for public service jobs are VERY competitive, difficult, and are a big deal. Despite the hard work of having to do long night shift part-times and over-studying, Hye-won doesn't make the cut. The place that came into her mind when life didn’t feel so easy, was home. She returns to her home in the countryside, where she left straight after high school. At the empty house where it was freezing cold, Hye-won fills it up with her warmth. She turns on the lights and cooks up a Cabbage Doenjang Soup with the frozen cabbage buried under the snow in her front yard. With a good filling meal, it feels good to be home after all.
But the fact is, home was actually the last place Hye-won wanted to be. Although all her happy childhood memories live in this countryside, there was a reason why she left it in the first place. Young Hye-won and her mother moved from Seoul with her ill father who soon passed away. The mother and daughter continued the stay regardless, and there they lived in nature and peace. For youngsters, however, nature and peace aren’t the most exciting in life. As Hye-won grew she longed for city life in Seoul, kept saying that she’ll move to Seoul for her university studies that her mum replied with only a smile. Hye-won’s words came true, but with a very confusing price. On the day of her Su-neung (College Scholastic Ability Test), all that’s left is an empty house and has never seen her mother since. Puzzled, Hye-won could not stand but to feel upset about her caregiver’s actions. Yet as time passed, her feelings grew to curiosity and steps towards understanding her mother’s life.
The food and Hye-won ‘s cooking at her countryside house is one of the main focuses of the film, which unconsciously makes Hye-won feel reminiscent of the old times. Hye-won even tells her friend Eun-sook (Jin Ki-joo) that she came back because she was “hungry.” Having to live on convenience bento boxes, she would for sure have felt unfilled both physically and at heart. At home, she heals her tired soul with good food and good people, having the long overdue relaxation she needed. The visual representation of each recipe and meal is filmed with much care on aesthetics, making the movie pleasing to watch. My personal favourite meals were the Flower Pasta and the Fried Acacia Flowers that Hye-won made during spring. Little Forest deals with all four seasons and the food that is distinctive to each season. These are mostly based on Korean dishes, like Kong-guksu (Soy Milk Noodles) for summer, Gotgam (Dried Permission) for autumn, and Sujebi (Hand Torn Noodle Soup) for winter. However, the recipes featured also include a couple of Japanese dishes like Okonomiyaki.
This is because Little Forest is actually a remake of a Japanese film with the storyline originating from the manga ‘Little Forest’. There are two movies to the Japanese version, as the full film is divided into ‘Summer/Autumn’ and ‘Winter/Spring’. The Japanese Little Forest is also a very calming and pretty film to watch with the same major outlines of the story. Yet, the two countries took a very different approach. The Japanese put the main focus on the food and cooking, narrating each recipe almost like a food documentary film. It also puts less attention on the surroundings of the main character, and more on herself. The plot of the Korean film revolves around the relationship between Hye-won and her mum, her friends, and of course of her own growth. If you’re a fan of one of the films, you might be interested to watch the other to find how they differ. A little TMI, you’ll find more meat on the J-Little Forest dinner table, but almost none on the K-Little Forest - this is because the director of the Korean film is a vegan!
Little Forest is truly one of the most down to earth movies I’ve seen so far, a movie that fits the phrase ‘less is more’ perfectly. There aren’t any dramatic scenes or conflicts, and it keeps its calm mood throughout the whole 103 mins running time. I was surprised that for such a slow movie, I wasn’t bored at all! Each character had their own charm and backstories that made them interesting, and all aside, I was drawn into the film just by Hye-won’s cooking scenes. In case you’re interested in the food only, here’s a Little Forest cooking scene compilation video, for both Japanese and Korean versions of the film! And for those wanting to try the whole movie, here’s the trailer below: