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Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...And Spring
Year: 2003
Seo Jae-Kyung and Ha Yeo-Jin
Director: Kim Ki-Duk
Producer: Lee Seung-Jae
Writer: Kim Ki-Duk
  Cast: Oh Young-Soo, Kim Ki-Duk, Kim Young-Min, Seo Jae-Kyung, Ha Yeo-Jin, Kim Jong-Ho, Kim Jung-Young, Ji Dae-Han, Choi Min, Park Ji-Ah, Song Min-Young
The Skinny: Kim Ki-Duk delivers an absorbing, meditative film about the life of a Buddhist monk, as structured through the metaphor of changing seasons.
  Review by Calvin McMillin:

     Simple, meditative, 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)

Availability: Region 1 NTSC
Sony Pictures Classic
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Removable English Subtitles

image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen