Posts Tagged ‘korean film’



June 24, 2007

Spring, summer, fall, winter … and spring review
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring

Matt: Four Stars

Length: 103min

Review by Matt:

It’s not often we can go to the cinema and watch a film that is a simple and moving Buddhist parable about life and morality. Obviously that’s not a common theme in Hollywood or European cinema. Even the Asian cinema that reaches our theatres is usually kung-fu extravaganza, or a ravenous monster piece (although there was the lovely Tibetan film Travellers and Magicians a few years ago). It’s especially great then that we’re able to see the rare gem that is Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring (or Bom yeoreum gaeul gyeoul geurigo bom in Korean). Provided you aren’t actually expecting the ravenous monster or crazed kung-fu, and you’re prepared to engage with the film’s slow, meditative mood, you’re likely to find this a unique and special film.

Spring is a South Korean film made in 2003 by one of the country’s most internationally successful directors, Kim Ki-Duk. It tells a simple, well-crafted story about a nameless Buddhist monk and the nameless boy under his tutelage. The entire film takes place at a small Buddhist monastery floating isolated at the centre of a lake. As the title suggests, it is set over five seasons. Each shows a significant episode in the pupil’s life, from childhood to adulthood. We watch as the boy grows to an adult and learns dramatic lessons about life and the suffering caused by straying from a path of purity.

In the opening story, the boy is a 6 year old in Spring. Exploring the world of the lake, he unthinkingly tortures the little creatures that dwell there – a fish, frog and snake – by tying rocks to their bodies with string. The boy’s master observes and encourages self-awareness by trying a rock to the boy’s own back – a symbolic lesson that stays with the boy his whole life. The story continues a few years later in Summer when a young woman visits the monastery to convalesce. Now a teenager, the young monk succumbs to the destructive emotions of lust and desire, despite the portentous warnings of his wise master. As the seasons unfold, the young monk’s path to Buddhist enlightenment is marred by impurities.

By the time the Fall episode arrives it seems there can be no going back for the reckless protagonist. Karma – the law of cause and effect – is a strong force in this film. Like the rock weighing down the boy, or the omnipresence of the seasons, the young monk cannot escape the consequences of his actions. He has corrupted his inner world, indulged the ego, and yielded to damaging desires causing serious external consequences and suffering. Yet, like the monk’s ever-accepting old teacher, the morality of Spring is one of redemption and forgiveness. It shows clearly that we can overcome impurities that mar the path to harmony. The film is a moving picture of the eternal circle of life in all its power, suffering and beauty.

Kim Ki-Duk was previously a painter. He turned to film-making relatively late in life. His artistry is evident in the serene beauty of the film. Each of the vignettes is exquisitely shot, and almost wordless. This meditative quality and the sparse population of characters is reminiscent of another recent film by Ki-Duk, 3-Iron (Bin-Jip). As in 3-Iron, Spring depicts an honest picture that exposes life’s ugly cruelty and suffering as well as its compassion and beauty.

Koreans, or others with a better understanding of the symbols of Eastern spirituality might gain more from the symbolism in this film. For example, the animals that inhabit each season – a snake, a cat, a chicken, a turtle – all have particular significance in Eastern culture. But the film’s core of philosophy speaks universally. Spring is a rare, beautiful and ponderous film with an ability to touch the viewer. There are plenty of other films that might give you a stronger and more immediate buzz of excitement. But that is likely to be fleeting compared to the lasting introspective experience you can gain from seeing this wise work of art.