It's a story we've heard before. Girl leaves her home in the country planning to make it in the city. She'll go to a big school & land a good job because there's plenty of work, and there will be a bus stop right outside her door. The opportunity and amenities are calling to her. She doesn't think twice about the life she will leave behind.
What's unique about this movie is the part in that story it chooses to tell.
It's the middle of winter when our protagonist Hye-won returns to her family homestead far from the city. It is empty and cold when she arrives. After warming the place up, she digs cabbage & green onion out from under the snow to make soup. She only plans to spend a few days.
Her reason for returning home? Because she was hungry.
She eats everything ravenously at first. She reconnects with her aunt. And she keeps telling herself she'll go back to the city. To the exam results she is avoiding. To the boyfriend she has not called back. To the clerk job she hated.
Then her short stay turns into a week, a week turns into a month, a month turns into a season. Until she wonders "If I stay through spring will I find my answers?"
The soil grounds her, the air and water purify her, and the food which she grows and cooks herself fills her in a way that city food never could. Each time she cooks she is reminded of the mother who taught her how -- and who also abandoned her.
Yet, she is not alone. Two school friends are still there. Jae-ha found that office work did not suit him and has returned to open his own orchard & work his families farm, and Eun-sook never left.
Hye-won is fully capable on her homestead. Even when the work is physically hard, she can do it. She smiles truly when she eats and spends time with her friends. Though she has run from her issues in the city & with her mother, she keeps planting and storing food as if she plans to stay long term.
I really wondered what would happen in the end.
This is a healing, foodie, friendsy, self discovery film. The slow pace allows you to relax, indulge in the food and landscapes, and the surprisingly upbeat attitude of Hye-won keeps a cheerful momentum. A truly feel good powerhouse.
There is very little conflict, but the story is progressed by raising curiosity in the viewer. What actually happened between Hye-won and her mother? Flashbacks are expertly woven in at the exact moments you most want an answer.
For an introspective story, there is very little internal monologue about feelings. If anything, occasionally, her thoughts on food or the seasons could be taken as a metaphor for how she is feeling. At the point where she realizes she needs more time to figure this all out she says:
"You need to wait to taste the best food."
The reluctance of Hye-won to make a decision about her future some how does not come off as frustrating. She has left loose ends in the city where she did not find her answers. Now she appears to be feeling her way back to something important.
When she asks Jae-ha why he came back to the country he says while he worked at the office"
"I had no time to think or live a life"
Hye-won is jealous that he found his answer and could move forward while she is still figuring out her own.
I feel like this is the most important theme in the movie. Both Hye-won and Jae-ha left their rural lives to attend college and get city jobs. Both of them hated it.
There are some people who want work and lives that feel meaningful. And sometimes that is only fully realized after trying out the opposite. I think young adults early on in their careers make a huge decision that will impact the rest of their lives: Do I stay in a lifestyle I hate just because I think I have to? Or do I take a leap of faith to find what truly suits me?
The answer isn't always clear, like in Hye-won's case, but she takes the first step in following her heart back to her homestead and after a year of self reflection she has her answer.
This entire movie gives the impression that it is only a short snapshot from Hye-won's life. And yet, it covers an entire year. I liked that the creators were able to achieve this feeling. In the grand scheme of things a year is not a long time. No doubt Hye-won would look back on it someday as a very important time for her.
The time when she discovered what her life was missing: a little forest her to nurture & give meaning.
The movie does end on a cliffhanger, right in the very last scene, but I actually think this was the right move. Knowing what actually happens in that scene would leave viewers feeling either happy or let down, so by not showing it we just feel hope. And this story was very much the journey of Hye-won going from empty to hopeful again.
I really related to this movie. While I would recommend it to anyone who has a love for quieter films with attention paid to aesthetics, I would also urge anyone who is early on in their career or unhappy in their current employment to watch it. The movie begs the viewer to reflect on their own life.
Also, I feel it important to mention that this is not a romance story, because it looks like it could be.
Categorization: Slice of Life, Self Discovery, Rural Life, Food
Length: 1 hour 44 minutes
Plans to Continue: I want to read the manga, though it looks very different
What This Film Has to Offer You
Cooking & Beautiful Food
A Return Home
A Strained Mother Daughter Relationship
The Value of a Slower Pace of Life
I couldn't find an English sub trailer, but you can watch the Korean one here to get a feel for the movie.
Thanks for reading!
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