SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER...AND SPRING
An old monk (Oh Young-Su) teaches a boy (Seo Jae-Kyung) alone, on a remote and tiny island temple in the middle of a lake in a deep valley as spring starts. The tranquil setting is deceptive; life is full of pain as well as wisdom and beauty. The boy grows into a young monk (Kim Young-Min) as summer comes, and brings a young woman (Ha Yeo-Jin) into this isolated spot, seeking a cure from the old monk. The young monk falls in love, but this leads to him being banished. By the time he returns in winter as an adult (Kim Ki-Duk), life's seasons have taken their toll and the old monk has gone up in the sacred flames of self-immolation. As he takes the place of the old monk with a new pupil, the circle of life is - tumultuously - complete.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Winner of the Golden Bell Award in its home country of Korea, Best Film at the San Sebastian and Bangkok film festivals, and with a clutch of other award nominations, Kim Ki-Duk's strikingly beautiful, contemplative Spring, Summer... is set over a longer time span than even the long title suggests, on a beautiful lake, on which a small temple is located atop a tiny island.
Interestingly, considering the film's Buddhist sensibilities, Kim Ki-Duk was brought up a Catholic, which may explain the spiritual fusion evident. He made up the Buddhist rituals seen in the film, and in the film's first lesson, the young boy learns the primary teaching of Christianity: do unto others as you wish others do unto you. In this case the others are a small fish, a snake and a frog. After the boy ties stones to them on a solo outing observed by his master, the master ties a stone to the boy's back and makes him free the animals. If any should be dead, he tells the boy, "you will carry the stone in your heart until you die."
Faced with the consequences of his actions, the boy is heartbroken. Spring is over. Years pass as the symbolic summer of the film starts, and the boy is now a young man. His explorations are far more adult this time around, after a sickly young woman is brought by her mother to be cured by the old monk. But it's the young monk who cures her - with love making. This displeases the old monk for spiritual reasons. He worries about lust awakening the desire to possess and hence leading to murder.
Notions of guilt, of penance and repentance, of redemption and the corruption of the everyman emerge as the film transits the seasons of man.
If these - and the other ideas in the film - carry any meaning for us, it's in how we digest the film as a whole. The isolation and beauty of the setting focuses us on these characters, and while some of the symbolism (like the ever-present gates that open onto the lake with just lake on either side) is elusive, the film's overall impact is somehow genuine and mystical. And by the time we see spring again, the circle of life is evident - but not necessarily its meaning; only its mystery.
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SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER...AND SPRING (MA)
Bom yeoreum gaeul gyeoul geurigo
CAST: Oh Yeong-su, Kim Ki-duk, Kim Young-min, Seo Jae-kyeong, Ha Yeo-jin, Kim Jong-ho, Kim Jung-young, Ji Dae-han, Min Choi
PRODUCER: Lee Seung-Jae
DIRECTOR: Kim Ki-duk
SCRIPT: Kim Ki-duk
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Baek Dong-hyeon
EDITOR: Kim Ki-duk
MUSIC: Bark Ji-Woong
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Not credited
RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto Entertainment
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 23, 2004