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Little Forest: A journey of reminiscing the past, dealing with the present, and moving forward

Hyewon one summer day in their little abode in the country

What will you do if you wake up one day and realize that what you’ve been running for and dreaming of for the past years was all but a pipe dream?

Join Kim Taeri as Song Hyewon as she journeys back home to find more meaning in her life. As she dives into the past and into the future to find her Little Forest – her small patch of contentment and happiness back home.

The story starts off with a clear and bright day. Hyewon trails a paved mountain road riding her bike on the way to the market town while reminiscing how she came back to their quaint little farming village a year ago.

Cold and hungry, she sets off outside and kicks off a year-long journey of reminiscing the past, dealing with the present, and moving forward with the help of food, friends, and family along the way.

Reminiscing the past

“I came because I’m hungry.”

Hyewon prepares to live in the town and encounters her aunt, Jaeha who brings along Fivo, and Eunsook. Eunsook asked Hyewon, her childhood best friend, the reason why she came back and how long she will be staying. Eunsook bluntly guesses that she failed the exams and left Seoul to hide out in their town. She answers that she came back because she was hungry – probably a metaphor for her hardships and standstill life in Seoul. Hyewon has that insatiable hunger for food that’s prepared with love, fresh, and flavorful. Hunger for a change. Hunger for a breath of fresh air to escape from the disappointments, frustrations, and fatigue.

“If I stay till the spring’s spirits break through the winter, will I find my answers?”
Mom decides to leave town and Hyewon

Childhood memories, experiences in Seoul, and most especially her mother’s cooking was part of Hyewon’s trip down to memory lane. Coincidentally, reminiscing memories of her mother brought up past hurts and scars. Additionally, Hyewon’s stubbornness was also evident all throughout.

“I want to live well and prove I didn’t need her.”

But her mom and her cooking was a big part of her childhood. From simply preparing her breakfast before she goes to school. To that intimate creme brulee moment, and the “eureka” from cooking okonomiyaki. This clearly describes Hyewon’s complicated feelings towards her mom. And one she’s going to deal with as she stays and reconnects to her hometown.

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Dealing with the present

The film treats us to various activities that shows the effort and care one puts into a dish or crop. Add to that the time it takes to achieve the best flavor, harvest or result. Even the mundane problems of planting tomatoes outside. Or serious problems like storms that beat down rice stalks that affect harvest and disturb apple orchards.

“Focus. Cooking reflects your heart.”

One of Mom’s advice as Hyewon takes another trip down to memory lane

The film aesthetically uses food as memory tags. Next, consoling others and oneself was also one big role of food in the film. Hyewon offering the creme brulee to Eunsook after a disagreement. Or Jaeha’s apology through an apple or Mom’s potato bread recipe received via mail. These are mundane yet common problems in life that can be fixed with food and a mindset that comes from a space of love and care.

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“Warm, living things are comforting.”

The other characters in the film may be few but they have great contributions to how Hyewon will realize what she must do with her life. From Eunsook’s blunt comment on why she’s hiding out in their town, to that unexpected jab from Jaeha while picking apples, to her aunt’s observation that she’s more like her mom.

“The most annoying thing is mom coming to mind whenever I cook. It’s like I’m always competing with her.”

When her mom left, Hyewon read her letter and she wasn’t able to understand it at first. As the story progresses, Hyewon stays and had time to heal and think about her future . She then rereads the letter and now has a better understanding of her mom’s decision.

Ultimately, we can look back to the time when the mother and daughter shared sikhye and makgeolli. In the past, young Hyewon enjoys sikhye since it’s sweet while her mom enjoys makgeolli – sour, acidic, and adult-like. “You have to wait to taste the best food.” This can also be translated to taking the time to understand circumstances and exerting the effort to understand one another.

“Only I came back without finding answers. I wonder if Mom found hers.”

Moving forward

“When things are hard, remember the scent of the land, the wind, and the sun here. Then I know you can dust yourself off and get up again. Let’s think of it as the start of a long trip to return home well.”

Mom’s letter to Hyewon

This film definitely lives up to its accolades as it takes you through an intimate journey of preparing food. Food that fills your stomach and feeds your eyes too. Food that warms the heart with a clear message that sometimes letting go, going back to your roots, and living a simple life may be one of the best decisions in your life.

Little Forest won’t bring that butterflies in your stomach feels. It won’t keep you at the edge of your seats because of the suspense. It’s a simple cup of coffee in the morning. Or that cold water you drank in the middle of a hot day. Or maybe the most memorable meal you’ve had that you can’t forget years after.

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These little things may be considered trivial and simple. But these always give us that familiar feeling of contentment. Ultimately it gives us a chance of intimacy with ourselves . Connecting us to the past and helping us move towards new experiences great or small.

“For Mom, the nature, cooking and her love for me have been her little forest. I should find my own little forest too.

Here’s to hoping you find your Little Forest too. ♥

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