Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring
directed by Kim Ki-Duk
starring Oh young-Soo, Kim Young, Seo Jae-Kyung, Ha Yeo-Jin, Kim Jong-Ho
Sony Picture Classics
For a movie about two Zen Buddhists in rural Korea, this movie has some great sex scenes. An Old Monk (Oh Yong-Soo) raises a disciple (Kim Jong-Ho, Seo Jae-Kyung, Kim Young, and Kim Ki-Duk, as he ages). They live on this teeny temple on a floating platform in a serene lake. When the child Monk ties rocks to small animals, the Old Monk ties a rock to him, and sends him out to find and release the creatures. Years later, a young woman (Ha Yeo-Jin) arrives, in search of a cure from a mysterious disease. The young monk becomes infatuated, and she takes to wandering around in the lake in a sheer white dress. This is more than he can take, so he falls in love and runs off with her, only to murder her. He returns with the police in hot pursuit, but everyone hangs out till he finishes hand carving a long Chinese text into the deck of the temple with the murder weapon. Years later, he returns to find the ashes of the first old monk, accepts an orphan from a veiled woman, and climbs to the top of a mountain dragging a large rock. The cycle has repeated.
Shot in an astonishingly scenic location, the passing of the seasons looks better than on an East Asian Travel Calendar. Each season comes with a theme animal — Spring plays with a puppy, Summer has a fine looking chicken, Autumn a cat (used as a calligraphy brush, no less). Everything seems symbolic, particularly the door to the otherwise open sleeping chambers. It’s only symbolic privacy; there really is none in this world. All is very monkish, except the lustful teenage monk, which provides an interesting contrast. The subtitles are easy to follow — this is a film driven by views and actions, not words. Bits of Oriental supernatural action intrude; Old Monk doesn’t seem to need a boat to get to the main land, doors open inexplicably, and snakes take up residence like they own the place.
The story’s most jarring moment comes when Teen Monk and the Girl become lovers. This just seems so alien to my received wisdom of the celibate, disassociated monk, that when you see them do what is normal for the rest of humanity, you sort of expect their head to spin around and someone dress them out of the service. Still, the whole process seemed completely normal, and the Old Monk seemed oblivious to their courting and moaning. Perhaps he is more in tune with nature than the ideal, and realizes everyone needs just a BIT, once in their life. That’s what makes this a great tale of loyalty, love, and lost ideals — it only departs from reality in things that don’t matter, and clings to them when they do.
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring: www.sonyclassics.com/spring