and enrapturing from the start, Spring, Summer,
Fall, Winter…and Spring was viewed as a bit of
a departure for Korean director Kim Ki-Duk. Although
the violence and alleged misogyny of his prior films
is arguably still present, there is a quiet beauty
in this 2003 production that truly sets it apart from
his earlier work.
At its core, Spring, Summer,
Fall, Winter…and Spring deals with the central
relationship between an unnamed Buddhist monk (Oh
Young-Soo) and his similarly nameless disciple, as
they lead a life of isolation on a wooden raft out
in the middle of a lake. All of the film's action
- if it can be called that - occurs in this same location,
spread out over a number of years.
Structured as a series of
vignettes, the film begins in the "Spring" of the
disciple's life, as we watch the child monk (Kim Jong-Ho)
take pleasure in torturing animals. One of the boy's
hobbies includes tying stones to the bodies of various
animals. As these living beings struggle to keep moving,
one can't help but wince as the boy giggles with delight.
Although the disciple is unaware of his master's presence,
the older monk has been observing the child's cruel
behavior all this time, but has chosen not to intervene.
Instead, the monk turns the tables on the boy as he
sleeps and teaches him "TheGolden Rule" in a truly
comical fashion. But while the boy's punishment initially
feels like an amusing sight gag, it also comes to
have a greater meaning as the film unfolds.
"Summer" picks up quite a
few years later, as the disciple is now a teenager
(and played by Seo Jae-Kyung). At this point in his
life, the young monk and his master have a new houseguest,
a teenaged girl (Ha Yeo-Jin) who has come to them
to seek treatment for an unexplained health problem.
Of course, sparks of romance (re: lust) fly between
the disciple and the sick young woman, and the young
monk's faith is tested. "Summer" is perhaps the most
lively and more straightforwardly entertaining vignettes
in the entire movie, and the consequences of it -
as with those of the boy's cruelty towards animals
- propel the latter parts of the story.
I won't spoil what occurs
in the next three chapters, but as the title suggests,
everything comes full circle. Even so, surprises abound
throughout the film, as the disciple's tale goes in
unanticipated directions. Actor Oh Young-Soo fully
embodies the role of the wise, all-knowing elder monk,
and his ability to play off the various performers
who take on the role of the young monk (including
director Kim Ki-Duk) as well as his non-human co-stars
(a cat, a rooster) gives the film a credible anchor
from which to explore its larger thematic concepts.
With its sparing use of dialogue, absorbing narrative
technique, and surprising sense of humor, Spring,
Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring leaves a lasting
impression, making it a film well-worth visiting and
then revisiting through the years. (Calvin McMillin, 2007)