Watching “A Little Monk” go through its predictably sentimental paces, one feels there’s a leaner, tougher-minded movie struggling to get out. But whatever tension script manages to generate, particularly in its bleak boy-alone-in-the-snow finale, is diluted by cutesy direction of first-time helmer Joo Kyung-jung, treacly score and mountain-retreat landscape in full, four-season display. Pic may find a receptive elder aud, particularly since the Buddhism depicted encompasses such hoary cliches as the strict master and enigmatic Zen parables.
Little boy raised in a Buddhist monastery yearns for his mother and believes every family beyond the gates lives happily ever after. Adventures like the little monk’s scuffling run-ins with the village kids, his pizza-graced visit to the capital or the sad departure of his only friend may be individually sweet or funny or tear-jerking, but never connect to any emotional continuum. Lead actor rarely ventures beyond “adorable.”