All the time in the world.
So-Young Kim’s TREELESS MOUNTAIN (2008) Young Jin (Hee-young Kim) is in class learning how to tell time. She is working hard to finish the assignment, but she runs out of time. Her teacher announces to the class they will have to ask their mothers to help them complete the job, learn the concept of time and how it works. There is a certain subtleness in the statement. Two young girls abandoned by their mother to live with relatives and the only way young Bin and Jin could predict her return was by the amount of time it took to fill a small piggy bank with coins–a concept of time their mother taught them.
Only their mother (Soo-ah Lee) isn’t home to greet them because she is working late to provide for them. So it is Jin’s responsibility to hurry home from school to pick up her little sister, Bin (Song-hee Kim), from the neighbors home. But she is late. Jin is always new. It was due to Jin playing games with her friends after-school, and this game may have been one game too many.
The neighbor will no longer watch her little sister while their mother worked. Since their mother could no longer work, they could no longer live in their small apartment. A single parent has few options. When Jin returned home from school, their mother was packing up their belongings. She was taking them to live with an aunt–a woman they never met.
Big Aunt (Mi-hyang Kim) was late to meet them in the marketplace. While at her home, the girl’s mother kept having to explain how good her daughters are, that they are healthy eaters, and how they won’t be any trouble. It didn’t matter. She was more concerned that the children would interfere with her drinking. Just before their mother left, she left them in charge of a small piggy bank. “If you do what your aunt tell you, she will give you coins.’ She instructs them to put the coins in the little bank each time. When it is full, she will return to them.
Almost immediately, their aunt put them to work: Bin to beg for salt, Jin to wash clothes. Sisters who were never separated were instantly divided. Their separation is short lived due to Big Aunt’s alcoholism, she often neglected the children, forgetting to feed them, or buy them new shoes when they outgrew their old ones.
Every day the two young girls would wait for their mother to return on top of the dirt and rubble hill behind their aunt’s home. Each time, they are saddened when she did not return. As the days pass, the children begin to lose hope that their mother would return. Believing that their mother would only return when the small bank she’d given them was full, they cleverly devise a plan to fill the small bank. They would sell roasted grasshopper to the school boys. When the bank was full, their mother did not return. Instead, their aunt took them to live on her elderly parents’ farm.
After being abandoned by their mother and haphazardly cared for by their aunt, living with their grandparents proved to be a better option for the young sisters. She kept them busy and attended to their needs and concerns–just as their mother would. When the grandmother mentioned that the older sister looked so much like her mother, Jin disagreed and called her mother a liar, yet there is a lesson in this–sadly, Jin’s experiences with her mother has caused her not to have too much faith in anyone. Two young girls who are struggling for normalcy in their young lives–without their mother.
The film is carefully narrated from the perspective of these two little girls, and it stoically details through their eyes–the pain caused by a mother’s abandonment. The camera is restricted so that viewers can see the world at ‘child level,’ focusing on their tiny little faces and feet that grew too big for small shoes. Slowly, you begin to see in their eyes the longing for their mother. Director So Yong Kim cleverly purposed the tale to bring you in on Jin and Bin’s disappointments. Some say that children are more resilient than adults and can withstand pretty much anything.
Time does not heal all wounds.