Saturday, October 20, 2007

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring

Bom, yeoreum, gaeul, gyeoul....geurigo bom; drama, South Korea/ Germany, 2003; D: Kim Ki-duk, S: Su Oh-yeong, Kim Young-min, Seo Jae-kyeong, Kim Jong-ho, Kim Ki-duk, Ha Yeo-jin

An old Buddhist monk is living in an small isolated temple that floats in a lake in the middle of a forest. He teaches a young boy to become a monk. One day he spots the boy tying up animals to rocks and ties him up to a rock too, in order to see the error of his ways. As a teenager, the boy is surprised by a girl who comes to the temple to become healthy again, and they have intercourse. The old monk takes the girl back to the shore because "desire brings suffering". The boy leaves the master and returns years later as a criminal, disappointed his girlfriend cheated on him. He is arrested by police officers. The old monk dies and the boy returns as a grown man, adopting a little baby from a mother. The mother dies by drowning in the lake. The monk climbs up a hill with a stone tied to his body.

Kim Ki-duk's quiet, meditative film "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter" about the everlasting circle of life and events is a magical ode to Buddhism. Extroverted films are not bad, but introverted movies like this are real cinema art. Actually, after watching movies for soul like this, movies full of spirituality, one really realizes how misguided all those shallow modern big budget films are. There is this one sequence near the start of the story that is really unbelievable: in it, the young boy plays at the lake and catches a fish, ties a rope attached to a stone to it's body and lets it back into the water, giggling at how it has difficulties swimming due to hard cargo. He then captures a frog and a snake, and ties them also to a stone, giggling again at how they have difficulties moving. But the old monks saw that and tied the boy to a heavy stone during the night. When the boy woke up, he too found out how it is to carry a heavy weight and realized what harm he has done. The monk tells him to find the animals and release them from the rope, and if one of them died, he will "carry a stone in his heart for the rest of his life". The boy quickly rushes back to the lake, full of remorse, and is saddened when he spots that the fish - died. It is one of the saddest allegorical moments of cinema - It's simply such an emotionally devastating moment that it breaks ones heart.

These were "just" animals, but that small moment symbolically mirrored how evil appears in the whole world, due to ignorance, boredom and egoistical aggression towards the weaker ones, and causes endless sufferings. It also raises some thought provoking questions - the little boy isn't directly guilty because he didn't know better as a child, but it was still his fault non the less. It's also interesting to note that the director crafted the whole structure of the story to mirror the four truths of Buddhism - life is suffering (the animals died or barely survived), suffering is caused by desire (as a teenager, the boy starts a passionate affair with a girl), end the desire, end the suffering (the boy leaves to follow the girl, but returns disappointed), end the desire by following the 8-fold path of Buddhism (the ending on the hill where the boy gets wisdom and "detaches" himself from the world). Ki-duk's direction is sometimes quite shaky and rough - for instance, the moment where the two investigators arrive in the temple to arrest the boy and shoot at a can in the water disrupts the fine calm mood with unnecessary bruteness. Or the moment when the old monk takes the girl away from the boy because he thinks "desire causes suffering", which is rather questionable since love should not be forbidden. Still, despite some heavy handed parts, the story unfolds smoothly and has real beauty and poetry (the scene where the grown up boy is carving the frozen waterfall in the winter), offering deep reflections about life and the right or wrong path it can take. Despite it's flaws, "Spring" is a rare kind of bird that shows a glimpse into the miraculous world of Buddhism.


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