Thursday, March 07, 2013

Treeless Mountain

Written and directed by So Yong Kim, Treeless Mountain is the story about a young girl and her younger sister who live with their aunt while their mother tries to find their estranged father. When their mother’s return is becoming uncertain, the girls deal with that possibility as well as the fact that their new home life isn‘t as promising as it could be pondering lots of question for these two girls. The film is a coming-of-age story that is told from the perspective of a young girl who has to deal with these changes. Starring Hee Yeon Kim, Song Hee Kim, Soo Ah Lee, Mi Hyang Kim, and Boon Tak Park. Treeless Mountain is a rich and entrancing film from So Young Kim.

The bond of family is something important when it is told to a young child about making sure that things be OK. In this film, it’s about a girl and her younger sister dealing with their mother’s abandonment as they have to live with their alcoholic aunt who isn’t the right person to take care of them. This situation would force this young girl in Jin (Hee Yeon Kim) to fend for herself as well as take care of her younger sister Bin (Song Hee Kim) while they wait for their mother to return. Even as they have to do things like sell burnt grasshoppers to kids in order to fill their piggy bank with money as their mother claimed she will return once the piggy bank is full. Yet, that promise seems to be more uncertain when their mother hasn’t returned where their aunt makes a decision that she hopes will help the girls.

So Yong Kim’s screenplay doesn’t really have much of a narrative structure nor much dialogue in order to showcase a young girl dealing with these changes as she and her sister are forced to move from the big city to a smaller town to live with their aunt. Though the adjustment wasn’t easy for the girls and their aunt as the latter isn’t a very responsible person, she does occasionally feed them and such though the girls would get more help from a neighbor who feeds them from time to time while the girls play with her Downs syndrome-afflicted son. Still, that air of uncertainty is in the air as Jin has to be there for Bin though both girls are still reeling from their mother’s absence.

Kim’s direction is quite straightforward in terms of the film’s minimalist presentation as Kim is interested in the life of these young girls. Shot in South Korea, Kim showcases a world where a girl’s life is being drastically changed as she is seen as a gifted student in school though her home life isn’t all great though she and her sister are still well-provided. Once they go into a more small town situation where things are a bit cramped, the girls are able to adapt as Kim does keep a lot of the framing and compositions straight while using some wide shots to showcase the world. Notably as she also uses some close-ups and tight shots to present that sense of loss that the girls are dealing with where the third act has them being taken to another place where the bond of the two sisters would strengthen. Overall, Kim creates a very majestic and touching film about two young girls coming together in the wake of unforeseeable circumstances.

Cinematographer Anne Misawa does amazing work with the film‘s cinematography from the use of sunlight in many of the film‘s exteriors as well as some gorgeous shots of the sky during dawn and evening. Editors So Young Kim and Bradley Rust Gray do terrific work with the editing to maintain that air of uncertainty through some slow yet effective use of pacing. Production designer See-hee Kim does nice work with some of the film‘s minimal set pieces from the home of the girls‘ aunt as well as some of the places they go to.

The sound work of Eric Offin is wonderful for the sparseness that is created in many of the scenes to establish the atmosphere in some of the film‘s moments in the river and suburban setting. The film’s music only appears in the final credits as it features a plaintive piece by Asobi Seksu as well as a cut from the band Grandaddy.

The film’s cast is brilliant as it features some notable small performances from Mi Hyang Kim as the girls’ somewhat irresponsible aunt, Kim Mi Jung as a kind neighbor who offers to help the girls out, Boon Tak Park as the girls’ grandmother whom the girls meet late in the film, and Soo Ah Lee as the girls’ mother who reluctantly has to leave them in order to find their estranged father. Finally, there’s the performances of Song Hee Kim and Hee Yeon Kim in their respective roles as Bin and Jin as they both give fantastic performances as two young girls dealing with the reality of their situation with Hee Kim as the more out-going Bin while Yeon Kim is more reserved as the older Jin who tries to come to terms with this new reality as she is forced to grow up.

Treeless Mountain is a truly exhilarating and heartfelt film from So Yong Kim. Armed with a great cast and a powerful theme on family bonds, it is a film that explores a girl coming of age in a situation that would provide big changes prompting her to be there for her younger sister. While it’s presented in an unconventional manner, it is still accessible for the way it showcases the relationship between sisters. In the end, Treeless Mountain is a splendid film from So Yong Kim.

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© thevoid99 2013

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