Treeless Mountain

Treeless Mountain movie poster
MPAA rating: NR
Genre: Drama
Two young sisters (Hee Yeon Kim, Song Hee Kim) must learn how to take care of themselves after their mother abandons them to look for her missing husband.
Starring: Hee Yeon Kim, Song Hee Kim, Soo Ah Lee, Mi Hyang Kim
Director: So Yong Kim
Running time: 1:29

Editorial Review

Nothing much happens in "Treeless Mountain," a small, poetic story by South Korean filmmaker So Yong Kim ("In Between Days") about two little girls whose mother leaves them with a relative while she tries to reconcile with the girls' estranged father. Nothing particularly cinematic, that is. But somewhere in between all the emptiness -- the film's laconic chapters are separated by repeated static shots of clouds and sky -- a beautiful little point is made.

At first, 6-year-old Jin (Hee Yeon Kim) and her little sister, Bin (Song Hee Kim), are miserable after their mother (Soo Ah Lee) dumps them with her sister-in law (Mi Hyang Kim), a dour taskmaster with a bit of a drinking problem who alternately ignores the kids and enlists their services in menial household chores. In an effort at vague reassurance, Mom has given the girls a plastic piggy bank, telling them she'll be back when it's full. Jin and Bin, however, take that literally, believing that the quicker they can stuff the bank with money they raise by selling roasted crickets to neighborhood boys, and then by trading in the cash for smaller coins, the quicker their mother will reappear.

It doesn't work, of course, and the girls' heartbreak -- you won't see two more adorable child actors on any screen this year -- is palpable.

Soon, even their aunt foists them off on the girls' grandmother (Boon Tak Park). It's in this final chapter that the director states his message, which is handled so lightly, almost incidentally, you might miss it. But it's a profound one. For what the girls learn is that the way to get what they want -- no, need -- isn't by hoarding something, but by letting go.

-- Michael O'Sullivan (July 24, 2009)

Contains thematic material relating to child abandonment, one instance of crude language and scenes of roasting crickets.