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SDAFF 2018 Opening Night – Little Forest: Where’s the Beef (Bulgogi)?

November 9, 2018

By Dr. Craig D. Reid

Directed by Yim Soon-rye, one of Korea’s most important female directors and preeminent Korean New Wave Cinema filmmakers, Little Forest is a Korean-food slice of homesteading, old-fashioned simplicity, spice of life story about the young lass Hye-won’s (Kim Tai-ri) escape from the hustle and bustle of her Seoul city-dwelling failures to find her soul and self through cooking, farming and by contemplating life at the abandoned countryside farmhouse where she was raised by her single mum.

The last thing you might think after watching this film is that it’s lightly based on a 2002 Japanese manga of the same title by Daisuke Igarashi that was adapted into a two-part live action film in 2014. Instead of knowing your enemy and being confident in battle, Yim’s version is about listening to your gut and finding balance in your life.

Food is one of those things that brings people together, is a great pick me up when you’re feeling emotionally spent, and over the past century has become an integral starting point for intercultural exchanges on a level everyone can understand and associate with. As today’s global mindset grows beyond every country’s borders, where the only word that’s worldwide known and used with the same meaning in every language, okay, food is the other universal language that every country has access to.

In regard to Korean food, to me, the culinary lessons that are crystal clear through the eyes and stomach of the young sole Hye-won, is that everything isn’t about gimchi or bulgogi, and that a vegetarian diet sounds scrumptious, looks ambrosially luscious and tastes blissfully vibrant. I mean, my cousin in Scotland is such an avid vegetarian that she refuses to eat animal characters, yet she does drive a car with a V-8 engine.

If you ever visit England and think the only thing they eat is fish and chips or over boiled vegetables, then you probably also think Korean food is gimchi and bulgogi. Thus your visit to England or watching Little Forest will be more interesting adventures and appetizing experiences than skiing down Mt. Everest while being chased by Yeti’s after your realize they really do exist.

As Hye-won blatantly admits, she came home because she was hungry and since we can easily associate with our own moments of hunger, as she’s preparing and cooking the dishes, the foods become the characters in the film. We can plainly see their character development, what they’re made off and how each moves the plot forward with their interaction with their human character counterparts.

Though screenplays are normally a three-act structure, Little Forest seems to have four acts as represented by the four seasons of the year. Yet it works because at the end of the day there’s no major antagonist, overly angst-ridden tension or emotionally driven conflict, just three friends connecting, sharing the enjoyment of eating great food, talking about the good-ole days, as they learn about how life has changed them while quaffing the home-brewed version of the Korean traditional alcoholic beverage makgeolli and munching on a home made, multi-layered rice cake.

These delicacies reminded of the Chinese sweet rice wine and the famous Chinese thousand-layer cake my mother-in-law in Taiwan would deftly take a day or so to make for the family.

What separated watching Little Forest at SDAFF 2018 from everywhere else in the world, at least that I’m aware of, is that after the dynamic Q&A with the renowned director Yim, the Opening Night screening was SDAFF’s first official inaugural Film to Table event. And what does that mean? Dishes the audience were mouth watering over throughout the film were featured at the smashing after party as they were succulently prepared by San Diego’s local chic Korean eatery, Cross Street Chicken and Beer.

It made last night’s movie live in stereo and senssurround…yummm! and yummm!

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