Treeless Mountain

"Excellent"

Treeless Mountain Review


On the eve of the release of Treeless Mountain, the exquisite and graceful second feature by the South Korean-born director So Yong Kim, the debate continues to rage over the importance and criteria of what New York Times writer/critic A.O. Scott has categorized as the "Neo-Neo-Realist" movement. Has the recession and the gloom of the Iraq occupation brought upon a closer inspection of modest characters and minor incidents? Recent works like Sugar and Goodbye Solo have searched out parts of America and their inhabitants, where America's major issues seem minor in the characters' day-to-day happenings. The cab stand where Solo works and the carpentry shop and the diner where Sugar ends up feel oddly like safe havens.

Ms. Yong Kim's film is not set in America but it echoes similar themes as the aforementioned works. The two young girls at the center of the film, seven-year-old Jin (Kim Hee-yeon) and her little sister Bin (Kim Song-hee), are lost in the landscape of modern South Korea, but it's not due to cultural realignment. Their frazzled mother (Lee Soo-ah), on her own mission to find the father of her children, drops them off with their domineering, alcoholic Big Aunt (Kim Mi-hyang). One note of hope: Handing them a red piggy bank; she promises that when it is full, she will return for them.

The naïveté of children is central to Yong Kim's movie and it brings about many of its most endearing moments. There is a silent caterwaul of hope in watching the two girls wait with the full piggy bank at the local bus stop, expecting the next transport to be the one with their mother. Their friendship with a young handicapped boy is unencumbered by any awareness beyond a wanting for sweets and a local friend. Yet, the film also builds much of its narrative off of the adaptation and cunning of Jin who, already the primary guardian of her little sister, becomes something of a bare-bones entrepreneur when she begins selling cooked grasshoppers to the locals.

Yong Kim's debut, the excellent In Between Days, was more attuned to the current trend of "Neo-Neo-Realism." The hesitant assimilation of Aimie, the teenager whose name even invokes a confusion of cultural allegiance and who, like Jin and Bin, is a victim of an absent father, feels more like a document of workaday America. Treeless Mountain feels, both in structure and in tone, more like a realist fairytale, complete with evil aunt, a (metaphorically) dead mother, and a pair of magical grandparents. When the little girls are dropped off on the farm of their grandparents, having tried Big Aunt's patience, the forge for tradition is a subtle facet of the narrative, appearing only in the children's glee at helping grandma cook and in seeing the imposing construction crews in the distance.

The very real magic that emanates from Treeless Mountain like vapor from a block of dry ice can be principally attributed to Hee-yeon and Song-hee, who lead the naturalistic, mostly non-professional cast. The film revels in the very small, sweet moments between the two girls, e.g. when young Bin buys a sweet roll and realizes that if they turn their dimes and quarters into pennies, they can fill the piggy quicker. Fittingly, Yong Kim says that Mountain was influenced by two events from her life: a part of her childhood where her mother left her with her grandparents and the birth of her first child. Highly personal though it is, by not making her movie part of anything specifically happening in America, Korea, or anywhere else, Yong Kim has infused her film with a sort of timelessness.



Treeless Mountain

Facts and Figures

Run time: 89 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 27th August 2009

Distributed by: Oscilloscope Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Fresh: 48 Rotten: 8

IMDB: 7.2 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: So Yong Kim

Producer: Bradley Rust Gray, Ben Howe, So Yong Kim, Lars Knudsen, Jay Van Hoy

Starring: Mi-hyang Kim as Big Aunt, Hee-yeon Kim as Jin

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