At the 2013 Jeonju International Film Festival, Sweet Temptation (잘 먹고 잘 사는 법) had the distinction of walking away with the Grand Prize in the Korean Short Film Competition. It’s highly likely that the film will continue to do well on the festival circuit as director Jeong Han-Jin (정한진) has crafted a lovely tale about the bond between mother and son, and the role of food in maintaining and developing the relationship. Combined with the charming character study involving a young boy’s loyalty, as well as some very attractive cinematography, Sweet Temptation is an endearing and memorable short film. Jeong-ho lives alone with his mother and their bond grows ever stronger as they cultivate fruits and vegetables together, before returning home to prepare them for meals. Their life is seemingly idyllic, until a girl at school tempts Jeong-ho with an offer of chocolate. Conflicted between loyalty and desire, he must make a choice to decide what kind of person he wants to be.
Director Jeong wonderfully conveys the lives of Jeong-ho and his mother as they work on the allotments for produce. The vibrancy of the countryside articulates the happiness and warmth they feel when together as well as the satisfaction of eating the fruits and vegetables they’ve spent all day harvesting, which themselves are full of colour. The bright red tomatoes, pale green cucumbers, electric orange carrots and so on all combine to portray a high-spirited, and very healthy, satisfaction with their efforts. After such a heartwarming opening director Jeong then begins to slowly and gently peel back the layers from the seemingly idyllic lifestyle revealing it to be anything but simple. This subtlety is easily one of the greatest strengths of the film as Jeong-ho, while happy, is not content.
Jeong-ho’s school life is where Sweet Temptation really becomes a compelling film. In running around with other children and comparing food during lunch time, the young boy is actually somewhat of an outsider. Recognising this, a girl in his class takes pity on him and as they begin to forge a relationship Jeong-ho becomes ever more conflicted, as his new friend represents temptations that lead away from the teachings of his mother. The symbolic and innocent relationship is genuinely lovely and sincere, particularly as they attempt to educate each other on food. As such the ‘sweet temptation’ comes to mean not only the chocolate and promise of tasty meals, but also the desire for someone’s affection other than his mother, and watching Jeong-ho’s internal conflict unfold is a real highlight. The young actor portraying the character does an excellent job in conveying torn loyalties, and when placed in compromising situations his deeply sad and frustrated reactions are often palpable.
If there is criticism to be had, it comes in the form of the running time. Sweet Temptation is a consistently compelling short film, and director Jeong weaves some really interesting plot threads within the narrative that are never fully realised or explored. This is a real shame as these hints at a wider world and family history would undoubtedly be as equally fascinating with the director’s gentle stylisation. However, despite such drawbacks Sweet Temptation is a charming and endearing film and certainly warms the heart for a good deal after the final credits.
Sweet Temptation won the Grand Prize at the 2013 Jeonju Film Festival in the Korean Short Film category, and not without good reason. Director Jeong Han-Jin has produced a lovely and endearing story about the bond between mother and son, and temptations that forge internal conflict in innocent minds. While plot threads are not capitalised on due to the short running time, Sweet Temptation remains a charming and heart-warming film.