In an attempt to conjure up one word to describe So Yong Kim’s second film, Treeless Mountain, I immediately came up with melancholic. The story, based loosely on So Yong Kim’s childhood, revolves around two children, Jin and Bin, who in essence are abandoned by their mother when she places them in temporary holding with their aunt, referred to as Big Aunt. With the summer ending and their mother still gone, the girls are moved to a farm owned by their grandparents.
The visual component of the film surpasses the singular description of melancholic. Alone, melancholic sets the viewer on the wrong foot, the wrong emotional key upon viewing. Clearly one adjective cannot describe Treeless Mountain; indeed it needed at least two words. Within the story So Yong Kim tells, an almost lush array of visual undertones surface. Jin, the older child in the Treeless Mountain (played by Hee Yeon Kim), doesn’t do much in the traditional sense of acting. Most of what Jin portrays is a simple, natural performance of a child. It is here, in the captive space of So Yong Kim’s observational camera, where the story truly begins to surface and the second description of the film became apparent-wistful. There is a softness in the long takes and thoughtful close-ups of Treeless Mountain. Because the lens is focused on the methodical yet unscripted movements of the children, the film captures the sincerity of youth.
Throughout Treeless Mountain, the sisters work together, perhaps not intentionally, to not only to survive but to fill a void in each other. There is no music in the film, which lends to the wistful style of So Yong Kim’s cinematic eye, to enhance the interactions between the siblings. It is here that the bond of the sisters shines through, and made clear that by surviving and taking care of her younger sister, Jin has filled the missing component in her heart.