This post includes a brief plot summary, an explanation about the ending of the film Little Forest / Liteul poreseuteu (2018) and a character analysis of Hye-won. Beware of spoilers.
Directed by Yim Soon-rye, the 2018 South Korean drama stars Kim Tae-ri as Hye-won, Ryu Jun-yeol as Jae-ha and Jin Ki-joo as Eun-sook. The film is based on a manga series of the same name written by Daisuke Igarashi. Today’s post is solely based on the film, not the novel.
Little Forest (2018) – Plot Summary
A young woman by the name of Hye-won returns to her childhood home in the countryside. However, she’s hesitant about telling her relatives and friends that she’s back in the village.
When Hye-won moved to Seoul, her plan was to further her academic studies and become a teacher. Although, Hye-won got into a school of her choice, she failed to pass the final exam that would give her the credentials to become a teacher. Ashamed, Hye-won left Seoul without telling her boyfriend.
As time passes by, Hye-won rekindles with her old childhood friends: Jae-ha and Eun-sook. After high school, the three friends went their own separate ways to pursue different paths. Jae-ha is now a farmer, but he used to have a corporate job in Seoul. After university, Eun-sook got a job at the local bank. Hye-won is the only one who’s not working at the moment.
One day, Eun-sook confides her feelings for Jae-ha to Hye-won. Despite of having feelings for Jae-ha, Hye-won doesn’t mind Eun-sook liking him. Meanwhile, Hye-won’s mother sends her a recipe. The woman left Hye-won when she was in her final high school year. The mother’s sudden disappearance caused a strain in their relationship. Mother and daughter have not spoken in years because of that.
While hanging out with Jae-ha, Hye-won comes to the realization that she needs to break up with her boyfriend. At that point, their relationship was pretty much over. For closure, Hye-won finally gains enough courage to call her boyfriend and officially end things between them.
During her long-stay at the village, Hye-won realizes why her mother did what she did. As a result, Hye-won packs her bags once again to go back to Seoul. After a while, she returns to the village and sees that her house door is open.
Little Forest (2018) – Ending Explained
There aren’t any major plot twists in Little Forest except the fact that Hye-won’s mother left her without a warning. So what was that ending all about? Why was the door open?
After Hye-won finished high school both mother and daughter left the house to pursue their own aspirations. The film doesn’t give many details about the mother’s life prior to having Hye-won. However, it does hint that she used to live in Seoul but had to give up on the city life after her husband got sick.
So what was the mother looking for? What did she intend to achieve by leaving the house? Let’s start from the beginning: why did the mother stay during all those years in the village?
When Hye-won’s father passed, there was no longer a reason for the mother to stay the in village. Having said that, Hye-won’s mother could’ve easily moved back to Seoul and raise her daughter. So, why didn’t she? Why did the mother decide to stay in the village?
SMALL VILLAGE VS. BIG CITY
The film portrays the countryside as a safe haven and Hye-won’s mother shares the same opinion. The woman wanted her daughter to create roots somewhere so Hye-won could have a place to go back to when life gets rough. That’s why the mother decided to stay in the village and not move back to Seoul.
Although, Seoul is a more attractive place to be, it’s also incredibly tough on its residents. In theory, a big city will always be better than any small village in terms of services, job opportunities and convenience. Nonetheless, there is a reason why people like Jae-ha and Hye-won left Seoul.
During his time in Seoul, Jae-ha had a corporate job but he was not happy and having a rude manager did not help. Therefore, the young man decided to return to the village and work on his parents’ farm. In Hye-won’s case, she left Seoul because she was “hungry”. There was obviously food in Seoul, but it lacked the warmth from home. During her days in Seoul, Hye-won was mainly feeding herself with fast-food and on the long-run that left her feeling hungry / empty inside.
So, Hye-won said that food was the reason why she came back, but that’s not the entire truth. Hye-won came back to hide, because she failed the big exam and couldn’t get the job that she wanted. Initially, Hye-won went to Seoul to study with her boyfriend. They were both planning to become teachers, but only one passed the exam (the boyfriend). Due to pride, Hye-won “ran away” and went back to her village to digest the whole situation.
WHY DID HYE-WON’S MOTHER LEAVE HER?
First of all, Hye-won’s mother didn’t leave her daughter: she went for a “long walk”. Although what she did was sort of unexpected, it wasn’t out of impulse. Hye-won’s mother prepared her daughter for that moment. When the mother left the house, Hye-won was already a young adult and able to take care of herself.
Just like Hye-won, the mother also had life aspirations before moving to her husband’s village. What Hye-won’s mother did was the complete opposite of being selfish. The woman chose to stay in the village so her daughter could have a solid foundation, a place she could call home. Once the mother thought Hye-won was ready to be on her own, she decided to pursue her own personal projects: do the things that she wanted to do, but hasn’t tried yet.
THE MEANING BEHIND THE OPENED DOOR
So why was the house door open at the end? By the look on Hye-won’s face, her mother is back!
An opened door also holds a deeper meaning in Little Forest. So, not only Hye-won’s mother is back but the relationship between mother and daughter is on again. Right when the film starts, it’s clear that mother and daughter are not in good terms. However, more towards the end, Hye-won was finally able to understand the reasons behind her mother’s life choices.
So when Hye-won saw the opened door, she began to genuinely enjoy the idea of seeing her mother again. The end scene, shows that Hye-won has moved on from her past feelings of anger towards her mother. Now that she’s no longer angry at her mother, Hye-won is also giving herself permission to reunite with her.
Hye-won – Character Analysis
What is Hye-won looking for? First of all, Hye-won left her village out of anger. The mother wasn’t very supportive of her daughter’s decision to live in Seoul. Perhaps, she knew how rough the big city would be for someone like Hye-won.
After living in Seoul for a while, Hye-won left the big city out of shame. So, her big plan was to go to Seoul, study and become a teacher. She achieved two of those three things. When Hye-won failed her final exam, she felt defeated. So what was Hye-won’s real problem with Seoul? Hye-won is a very prideful person. She didn’t go to Seoul to achieve her dreams, she went there to prove that her mother was wrong. Having said that, when Hye-won failed to become a teacher, she couldn’t come to terms with that fact.
Hye-won makes a lot of her decisions based on emotions. First, she went to Seoul out of spite, then she left the city out shame. So, there is a pattern here. Hye-won is an impulsive person and instead of facing her problems, she often chooses to run away from them. For instance, she left Seoul without telling her boyfriend. In addition, Jae-ha called Hye-won out on her “busy schedule”, hinting that she works hard on the land to forget her current problems.
In the end, Hye-won makes peace with herself. The young woman realizes that she doesn’t need Seoul to be happy. As a matter, happiness is not a place but rather a state of mind. Hye-won finally understood the importance of making her “little forest”, a place that can nurture her.
If Hye-won fancies the countryside so much, why did go back to Seoul (temporarily)? Although, Hye-won can plant anything that she wants on her backyard, the woman still needs some source of financial income. That’s the realistic side of Hye-won: in order to spend more quality time in the countryside, she’ll also need to fund that lifestyle. One of the simplest ways to do it is to work a couple of months in Seoul and then go back to the village.
If I had to pick a word to describe Little Forest, it would be “warm”. There aren’t many stories like Little Forest out there, because it’s so simple.
Little Forest is a very unassuming film. There are no big dramas, complex plots or crazy plot twists. Imagine watching a film about people living, that’s what Little Forest is all about. Although, it might sound like a boring plot, it’s actually pretty entertaining. Personally, I did not feel one single boring / dull moment during those 103 minutes.
The film plays a lot around the themes of “wants” and “needs”. So while Hye-won was living in the village, she longed to live in a big city like Seoul. However, once Hye-won stepped foot in Seoul, she realized that life in the big city wasn’t as glamorous or fun as she once thought. As a result, Hye-won decided to seek refuge in the countryside, hence, her return to the village. Although, Hye-won finds the countryside life to suit her better, she’s also realistic about her financial situation. That’s why she went back to Seoul to work for a couple of months, so she can afford to have a life in the village.
Overall, Little Forest is a very noteworthy watch because the film has a lot of heart. As a viewer, I was definitely charmed by the cooking / food scenes and the beautiful landscapes. Please do not watch the film on an empty stomach, because it will make you crave for foods that you usually don’t pay much attention to.