Treeless Mountain


Ling, a feisty six-year-old, lives with her mother and chubby little sister, Ding, in a cramped apartment in Pusan City, Korea. When their mother decides to go look for their estranged father, Ling and Ding are forced to stay with their alcoholic Big Aunt in a small town for the summer. Their mother gives them a piggy bank and promises to return when it is full.
Ling rebels against the new situation. Ding, who doesn’t complain as long as she is fed, easily befriends Big Aunt’s tenant, a blind man, and a retarded boy who lives next door. Big Aunt constantly forgets to feed the girls and shoves them out into an alley where dirty kids harass them. One night after Big Aunt passes out, Ling runs away with Ding to search for their mother. They get accosted by a bum at a bus station and are brought back by a local bus driver. Big Aunt threatens to send the girls off to their grandparents’ farm if they continue to misbehave.

After the failed escape attempt, Ling becomes obsessed with filling the piggy bank.
The money comes slowly until one of the alley kids, Tall Boy, tries to impress Ling by showing her how to catch and grill grasshoppers. When he sells them to other kids for money, Ling decides to team up with Tall Boy.

Things are going well when suddenly Big Aunt’s spoiled daughter arrives with her new fiancé. Big Aunt is forced to sell her house to invest in the young couple’s new business. Everyone must move out. Ling and Ding feel alone and afraid. The piggy bank is finally full, but there is no sign of their mother. On their last night, Big Aunt gets drunk and reads Ling a letter from her mother. The letter tells Big Aunt to send the girls to their grandparents’ farm until she can return. Ling is shattered to discover that her mother has lied.

The harsh conditions on the farm make it difficult for Ling to stay optimistic about their future. But after watching her grandmother work hard without complaint, Ling becomes inspired by her strength. Their grandmother tells Ling and Ding stories about their mother when she was growing up on the farm. Through these stories, Ling starts to believe in her mother again and realizes she will return for them. Ling learns to embrace the life on the farm and to take care of Ding. In the winter, Ling notices their grandmother struggling to mend her old sandals. Together Ling and Ding offer their grandmother the money inside the piggy bank to buy new shoes and, in doing so, take their first real steps toward growing up.

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