Allegorically Introspective and Cyclically Brilliant Cinema
Kim Anehall | Chicago, IL USA | 11/11/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring ushers the audience into silent solitude through meticulously planned cinematography that maximizes the effect of the natural environment. The environment is essential to the story as it takes place in an idyllic valley that is untouched by the continually modernizing civilization. In the middle of the valley is a small lake in which a small floating monastery drifts by the forces of the nature. This has an allegorical meaning as it supports the notion that everything is part of a greater plan in which individuals can make small ripples that will affect the individual throughout life.
Each frame is carefully planned as color, form, and movement come together into a meaningful expression of either spiritual, moral, existential meaning, or a personal meaning which rests behind the eye of the beholder. The film becomes a sequential succession of spiritual or existential paintings that are rapidly exchanged before the viewers' retina. The mise-en-scene is exceptionally significant as Ki-duk Kim has left nothing to chance, yet everything is based on chance. This visual oxymoron is very much like the chaotic expression which nature expresses itself within each season.
The story is split into the four seasons as it begins and ends with spring as the title suggests. The beginning takes place in the spring as an old monk cares for a young boy who discovers the consequence of guilt the hard way as he torments a fish, a frog, and a snake. The shots have symbolic meaning, yet the many frames offer much room for personal interpretation as the boy deals with everyday life under the supervision of the monk.
Summer opens the door to love, affection, and desire as the young boy has become a young man. This begins with the old monk who receives a young woman that is sick. The mother of the young woman requests that the monk help to cure her daughter that seems to suffer from some sort of restless melancholic ailment. The young woman and the young man playfully begin a romantic relationship that leads them into a physical relationship. This relationship drives the young man to give up a life in the small monastery as he sneaks away an early morning.
Fall is the season when the woods change from green to an explosion of color. Ki-duk Kim use this natural phenomenon of the seasons to a full effect as the season displays the aftermath of a vengeful strikeout from the young man who now is a man in his 30s. The man now has to learn the consequences of his actions through a painful internal crisis, in which he seeks moral and spiritual redemption by returning to the tranquility of the valley.
Winter follows fall and the man is now in his 40s, as he once again returns to the monastery in order to take over for the former monk. It becomes a time for spiritual search and moral purging for the man who tries to fill the shoes of his former teacher and guide. This means that he must find a way to deal with his past, present, and future by rigorously following a rough and narrow path.
When spring returns the film brings the audience in a full circle as it returns to where the film once started. The cyclical message is a fundamental cornerstone of Buddhism and the message that the film portrays. However, it does not mean that things will be the same in the future as each ripple created will cause some change in the environment, which is skillfully depicted through the use of the animals that Ki-duk Kim incorporates into each season. In the initial spring there is a dog and as summer comes along it brings a rooster while a cat enters with the fall. A snake appears in the winter as and as the spring returns it brings the audience a turtle. These animals also represent the end of men's lives as they could be reincarnations of other human's, which is a result of the ripples they once created. "
A Man of All Seasons
Alex Udvary | chicago, il United States | 05/29/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Director Kim Ki-duk's "Spring,Summer,Fall,Winter, And Spring" is a powerful examination of the choices we make in life and how we can come full circle and resolve our problems. A movie such as this one is not going to be enjoyed by a large audience. It is an "art film" but that shouldn't stop someone from seeing this, possibily one of the year's best films. The movie revolves around an Old Monk (Oh Yeong-Su) and a young Monk (played by three different actors at different stages of his life. The "adult" monk is played by the film's director) and the lessons the Old Monk teaches the young one about life. But, the Young Monk is tempted to follow the wrong path, and many times gives in. For example, and this is not giving an major informatin of the plot, he has a affair with a woman who came there for peace and quiet after suffering from an illness. The Young Monk finally comes to the conclusion he cannot live the life of the Old Monk and must do whatever it takes to change it. When dealing with films like this one you have the realize there is more to the film than meets the eye. The movie is full of symbolism. Evereything represents something, so I'm sorry to say, thinking is required. There are only two faults I have with the movie. And they come near the end, so I can't reveal what they are. But this is a near perfect film. Everything you could want is here. Real, passionate characters, interesting sitautions in which we can relate to, beautiful cinematography, strong directing, and fine performances. I strongly advise those who have the chance to see this film, take it. You have to be a pretty "cold" person to resist its charms. Bottom-line: A powerful, absorbing drama that deals with characters we come to care about. The film has fine performances and strong directing. A movie that is actually about something. I'm pretty sure this is one of the few films I'll remember come year's end."
A Zen Experience
Robert Wise | 02/04/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a truly great work of art that is also a medium for the Buddha's teachings.
Zen is a school of Buddhism that traditionally does not rely on words or letters and is based on the "mind to mind" transmission of the master's teaching to the student.
Many excellent reviews have covered the wonderful story line and the cinematic qualities of the film. I would like to make a few comments on the Buddhist and Zen teaching elements of the film.
1. The setting -- Buddha was enlightened under a tree and the natural world serves as the context for many Buddhist teachings. The great Japanese Zen Master, Dogen, wrote essays on the lives of mountains and rivers and non-sentient beings.
2. Cycles -- The seasonal cycle in the film is symbolic of the cycle of life with an old man, a child, youth, young lovers, parents, and old man again. Only if we live, as Dogen said, in Being/Time can we transcend these cycles.
3. Karma -- The child, because of his choice or his propensity kills a fish and more... Every decision and mysterious propensity leads to consequences.
4. The Island temple and the raft -- The small temple is on a drifting island connected to the shore by a raft indicating the impermanence even of the Master's abode and the refuge. A question from Zen point of view is -- Where is Buddha?
5. The Master -- He teaches with few words -- typical of Zen tradition -- teaches by example. (Actually... Zen masters are blabbermouths who did anything to teach their students that they thought would work. Existence is the ultimate blaberbody).
6. The Gateless Gate -- One of the two great Zen Koan (cases studies for contemplation) collection is called in English "The Gateless Gate". To reach the boat from the shore and to reach the Master's room from the bedroom there is a door but no wall. What is reality? Is there any real separation?
7. Animal teachings -- A fish, a rooster, a cat, rocks, falling leaves, snow, water and waves, the sky, and mountains all play roles in the teaching process. Does a little fish have Buddha nature or not?
8. Skillful Means -- In Zen tradition there is dynamic and powerful teaching, when necessary, using shouts, hitting, and dynamic dialogues and any other means. The Master uses a poor cat's tail to write the sutra on the deck of porch of the temple. There is more but you must see this movie...
9. No eyes, no ears, no tongue, no body, no mind. no seeing, no hearing, no tasting, no touching, no thinking -- This line from the Heart Sutra is a core teaching of Buddhism -- especially Zen Buddhism. In the most haunting scene in the movie, the Master's eyes and mouth are covered with paper -- what does this mean to you? Has reality been cut or is this a new reality?
Spring Summer Fall Winter Spring. Where is it and when does it begin and end? "
Simple Pleasures and Profound Lessons
Zinta Aistars | Portage, MI United States | 07/12/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In an age of computer enhanced, if not entirely generated, special effects, high adventure, action upon action scenes, what an enjoyable respite it is to view this Korean film of aesthetic simplicity.
Korean director Kim Ki-Duk has created a film centered around the seasons of a man's life beautifully framed against the seasons of nature. An elder Buddhist monk raises a younger monk with a quiet and unobtrusive wisdom. The scene is set in a small floating monastery where the two live alone but for one animal companion, the choice of animal changing with each season, adding layers of intriguing symbolic meaning. Surrounding the floating monastery is a lake set among mountains.
Beginning in the spring of the boy's life, when he is a child learning about the world around him and within him, the wise older man watches the naive young boy engage in lessons proffered by nature. He lets the boy learn on his own, watching from a distance, and only steps in when it is time to do so. In perhaps the film's most profound statement, he watches as the boy, chuckling to himself, ties string around a fish he catches in the lake, and attaches it to a stone. The child takes joy in the struggling of the fish when he releases it back into the water, where the fish is unable to swim freely. The boy repeats this with a frog, with a snake, gleefully tormenting his fellow creatures. From the woods above the shore of the water, the elder monk watches. He is a silent observer, allowing the boy to engage in his mischief. It is only at night, when the boy sleeps, that the monk ties a rock to the boy's back, precisely as the boy did with the tiny creatures. When the boy wakes upon morning, he finds himself weighed down with the rock, and when he questions the elder man, is told that the rock will not be removed until the boy removes the stones he tied to the creatures the day before. Should he not have rescued the creatures in time, the stone will then be a weight the boy must carry in his heart ever after.
The boy seeks out the creatures he has tormented. He finds the little fish dead in the water, still tied to its stone. Teary eyed, he buries it. The frog, though exhausted from its added weight, survives. The snake, however, the boy finds bloodied and dead, attacked by other creatures while unable to escape, and the boy sobs with regret for what he has done.
This is but the first of many lessons the boy must learn as he grows into a man over the course of the seasons of his life and the life around him. There are lessons of love and lust as the manchild, and then the adult man, confuses the two; there are lessons of violence and retribution; lessons of penitence and forgiveness; lessons on dealing with one's own emotions and inner turbulence; lessons of honor and death and rebirth. There is a repetition of the stone tied to the man as he reaches a higher level of understanding, once the elder monk has died, and this time the man has tied the stone to himself as he presses to reach for a higher level of endurance, wisdom, and reverence.
While seemingly simple, this wonderful film is in actuality complex and rich with beauty and symbolism, cutting to the core of a man's nature and the nature of life. It can be watched many times over to enjoy fully its intricacies. It is subtitled, yet one can watch it, and perhaps even should--at least once--without the words, for there are few, and the images convey all that must be understood.
Perhaps the greatest skill in movie-making is not the amount of special effects incorporated in its making, as to what level of beauty and wisdom one can bring to the screen without anything other than a director's fine eye and profoundly simple yet wise insights.
Seasons Which Awaken Truth
Erika Borsos | Gulf Coast of FL, USA | 02/05/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Elegantly filmed with an artistic view of idyllic mountain scenes of North Kyungsan Province in Korea where Jusan Pond was created over 200 years ago. It is an artificial pond which looks like a lake and reflects the mountains like a mirror. The scenery calms the mind and soothes the soul, the camera's eye glides gradually to a small lake hidden between mountains ... on which floats a beautifully painted and carved Buddhist temple. The misty mountains and tall peaks hide an inner beauty far from the ordinairy. An elderly monk tends to his prayers and then goes about his daily chores in meditation and silence. He is accompanied by a young boy, a student, a "monk-in-training" who likely will inherit this peaceful lifestyle. "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring" makes the viewer awesomely quiet and silent, absorbing the landscapes created by nature. The viewer is spellbound, waiting, anticipating ... what is next? A young monk, about aged 7 or so is watched closely by the Master. He engages in boyish pranks, which harm some small helpless creatures. The Master is dismayed but uses the experience to teach the young monk a lesson he will not soon forget about "compassion." It is now "Spring" ...
Time passes, and the young monk is now an awkward teenager. He tends the Buddhist temple with care and occasionally rows a boat to a gate which leads to a path ... a path to the outside world, the mountains are like a wall from ordinairy civilization. From seemingly nowhere, a mother and her ill-looking teenaged daughter arrive at the temple. The mother has sought healing from many sources but nothing has cured her daughter, she asks the Master for help, she has nowhere else to turn. The elderly monk accepts the young lady as a guest. She participates in the simple life of the temple. The teenaged monk and she eye each other warily ... and inevitably ... teenage passions are aroused which erupt into actions. Trying to hide their feelings the teenaged monk and girl reveal more than conceal. The Master asks if she now feels cured, she responds, "yes". He then concludes, "you have received the right medicine, it is time for you to leave."
The film continues to reveal "seasons" of life ... the young monk as an adult wrestles with certain internal desires and leaves the monastery - to join life in the outside world. Lust, desire to control, and anger lead to evil behavior. While the actions are not shown, the implications of what happened are very clear ... The young monk returns to the temple, without explanation but among his belongings, the Master discovered a newspaper article in about the *unexplained* murder of a local married young woman. The behavior of the returned monk is subdued. LOcal police investigators arrive at the temple ... The young adult monk engages in painting out specific Buddhist sutras on the deck of the temple. No one is accused, no one is arrested. The air is thick with suspense ...Needless to say, this film continues symbolically revealing subtle life-altering experiences which are densely packed with meaning. There are suspense-filled moments that reveal intense emotions of shock, sadness, and revelation within the sphere of the idyllic floating Buddhist temple ... tucked between lush green, peaked and misty mountains. The impact of the lessons learned within this film are vast and deeply meaningful. This is a most highly recommended viewing experience. Erika Borsos [pepper flower] "