Kim So Yong's prize-winning auto-biographical second feature "Treeless Mountain" opened the 16th Adana Golden Boll Film Festival running June 8 – 14. Director KIM and the film's two leading child actors Kim Hee Yeon and Kim Song Hee attended the red carpet opening ceremony.
Jury president and Cannes award-winning Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan introduced the film, saying he found Korean cinema interesting and followed it closely. Treeless Mountain tells the story of two unwanted young sisters shuffled off by their mother onto their alcoholic aunt and then on to their grandparents.
The film has played at numerous film festivals around the world. Director KIM is Korean-American and debuted with the feature "In Between Days". "Treeless Mountain" is her first film made in Korea. It won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury in Berlin, Best Film in Dubai, the Netpac Award in Pusan and the Filmex Special Jury Prize in Tokyo.
A 6-year-old girl sits on a bus, staring out the window as it passes unfamiliar landmarks. In the manner of children everywhere, she exhales on the glass, then draws shapes and words with a finger. Among them is the name of the aunt she and her 4-year-old sister are headed to visit, far from their home in Seoul, South Korea; a stranger, with whom the girls will be left while their mother is away.
Korean/American filmmaker So Yong Kim's lovely drama "Treeless Mountain" is the story of these two soft-faced little girls: Jin (Hee Yeon Kim), the elder, and Bin (Song Hee Kim), the younger. And it is the story, in many ways, of the difference between being 6 and being 4. Jin is already accustomed to being responsible, to helping take care of her sister while their single mother is busy. Now, she must take even more responsibility for the more carefree Bin in the face of their aunt's indifference, even as she faces her own misery. This child, who seems so mature, misses her mother terribly but does not speak of it; the world weighs heavily on her small shoulders.
So Yong Kim has a real gift for putting children at ease before the camera, and her two very young actresses (who are not sisters off-screen) reward her with performances of heartbreaking realism: Jin's quiet misery seems to come from somewhere deep within. And the filmmaker, often putting her camera at child's-eye-view, finds just the right visual details for telling a story with few words: Bin's shabby princess dress (which she insists on wearing all the time) hanging limply on a clothesline; long shots of clouds and sky, reminiscent of the way time moves more slowly for the young; the way Bin walks in Jin's slightly bigger shadow.
"Treeless Mountain" is reminiscent of another story of neglected children, Hirokazu Kore-eda's haunting "Nobody Knows," but is ultimately much more hopeful: Eventually, the sisters have found a better place and begin to smile again, and Jin seems just a little older and infinitely wiser. At the end, the girls sing about wanting to climb a mountain. They don't realize — but we do — that they already have.