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Like Kim Ki-Duks earlier movie, The
Isle, his latest takes place on the water. Thats about the only similarity
though. The setting of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
and Spring, Jusan Pond in
Juwangsan National Park, is a triumph of location scouting. The protagonists, two monks,
live in a temple home floating on a lake surrounded by lush green mountains. A giant stone
Buddha overlooks the lake while an antique gate leads to a little boat dock on the calm
shore. There are many shots of the condensation rising off the waters or of low fogs
descended from the skies. Few movies capture the serenity of nature as this one does.
Following the titles lead, the film encompasses the story of the two monks in five sections, each one set during the season specified. Roughly a dozen years separate each story segment. Spring begins with the young monk (Kim Jong-Ho) at about 5 years old and the old monk (Oh Young-Soo) in his mid-40s. (None of the characters are explicitly named.) The little boy scampers about the wilderness landscape and eventually discovers a way to amuse himself. He ties a stone to a fish, thern a frog and a snake and gleefully laughs as the animals struggle. The old monk observes it all and as a lesson, ties a stone to the childs back. This section takes a vignette of elemental simplicity and transforms it into something profound. Innocent cruelty stands as power divorced from responsibility and Kim Ki-Duk makes the lesson powerful by transporting the audience into a different perspective. Suddenly the world is seen through the values of Buddhist thought.
In Summer, a pretty, young woman (Ha Yeo-Jin) is brought to the temple to recuperate from an unnamed malaise. The old monk says that her soul is making her body sick. She inadvertently stirs some primitive urges in the young monk (Seo Jae-Kyung), now 17 years old, and he begins an awkward courtship of the girl. The old monk is not disturbed by the sexual awakening, but he warns that Lust awakens the desire to possess. Kim presents the sex scenes as frank and matter-of-fact though the relationship itself comes off as rather romantic. The young monks inappropriate antics put the girl off at first, but he gradually overcomes her defenses until they are stealing glances at each other.
In Fall, the young monk (Kim Young-Min), now 30, returns to the monastery after a long absence. The outside world has made him a criminal consumed with anger and jealousy. The old monk forces the young monk to carve Buddhist sutras into the deck of their home. Where the first two segments deal with power and desire, respectively, this one is about acceptance. Kim fashions a moment of true majesty when he displays the sutra letters painted in pastel colors and then cuts to the autumn trees similarly hued.
Winter finds the lake completely frozen over. The young monk is no longer so young. Kim Ki-Duk himself inhabits the role, and does so bravely by spending most of the segment shirtless in the snow-laden, wintry outdoors. A mother comes and leaves her child at the temple and the monk realizes the greater wisdom that comes with age.
While a movie about monks might sound boring, Kim incorporates plenty of humor albeit through the physical expense of some animal the little boy monk casually picks up and tosses away a snake, the old monk pulls a boat to him by tossing in a rooster tied to a rope and reeling it back, and the old monk paints calligraphy using the tail of a live cat.
In Spring, Summer, Kim Ki-Duk looks across a wide emotional spectrum and at the wonders of the natural world.in an accomplished, contemplative work rooted in the philosophy of Buddhism.
- George Wu