Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring (15)

Oct 20, 2004
Cranbrook Film Society

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…and Spring uses perfectly composed shots to amplify an emotionally resonant story. The film successfully demonstrates that “artistic” films do not have to be boring.

Although few in the audience are likely to identify intimately with the characters, Buddhist monks who live in virtual isolation, the film’s themes about the mutability of life and the desire for peace and atonement have universal implications. One can be a City Stockbroker or a Cranbrook teacher and still understand the points being made by Kim Ki-duk’s film.

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…and Spring uses the changing of seasons as a metaphor for life. As the film opens it is spring in South Korea and the two inhabitants of a floating monastery, located in the middle of a lake, are going about their daily routine. They are a teacher, Oh Young-Soo and his very young apprentice, Kim Jong-ho. The boy is not yet 10 years old but he is learning the ways of Buddhism. During this segment he learns an especially forceful lesson.

Ten years later, it is summer. A sick girl, Ha Yeo-jin, has come to the monastery to be healed. While there she and the apprentice, now a teenager, played by Seo Jae-kyeong, fall in love. Lured from the calmness of his ascetic lifestyle by the promise of carnal pleasure, he abandons his master and accompanies the girl back to the “real world.” His master’s warning – that lust leads to possession, and possession to murder – is prophetic.

Ten years later, in the autumn, the apprentice, Kim Young-min, returns to the monastery; this time as a fugitive from the law.

Through his master he learns the path to redemption – just as the police arrive to arrest him. Finally, a decade later, in winter, the apprentice, Kim Ki-duk, returns for a final time. Now content to accept the role of master, the old monk having died, he makes the monastery his home and takes on an apprentice of his own.

The concept that existence is circular is much in evidence. The film begins where it ends, with an ageing man imparting wisdom to a young charge.

We suspect that this has gone on for centuries and will continue for centuries. The land around the monastery is untouched by time. The only clue that this is a contemporary story comes from the clothing and attitudes of the police who arrive in autumn. The film depicts the life of an individual in ten-year snapshots over the course of his development from boyhood to maturity like a Bildungsroman.

Idealism is supplanted by a yearning for physical satisfaction; romance turns to tragedy; repentance leads to understanding. These things happen quickly on-screen, with the years elapsing in a heartbeat. We mourn for lost innocence and appreciate the accumulation of wisdom.

The film is visually beautiful and spiritually austere. By the end, although we do not know the main character’s name, we feel that we have taken a long and rewarding journey at his side.

Ki-duk Kim | South Korea | 2003 | 103 minutes | 15