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Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring

Art House & International movie directed by Ki-duk Kim

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Simple Pleasures and Profound Lessons

  • Jul 12, 2005
  • by
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.

Highly recommended.

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More Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter..... reviews
review by . September 22, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
Everything about Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring is incredibly simple, so simple that it is borderline boring. The film about a young monk who is the understudy of a wise old monk. He starts out as just a boy but grows up with the seasons. They live on and take care of a floating monastery on a lake in the middle of a forest.     The young monk must experience life by himself for many years. As a young teen he is introduced to a young girl who's mother brought her to the …
review by . October 13, 2006
The movie is very slow and very deliberate. The team of cinematographer, Dong-hyeon Baek, and director, Ki-duk Kim, use stunning imagery to tell their version of the circle of life.     The strength of the movie lies in its ability to tell a tale with imagery instead of dialog. If you're one to get antsy in a Kubrick film due to his long drawn out shots, you likely will hate this movie. However, if you have patience and appreciate a director who doesn't seem to think the movie …
review by . October 18, 2004
When I saw the preview for this, I knew I had to rent it. During those first few glances I felt like maybe this movie could be a contender with Vertical Ray of the Sun for one of my all-time favorite movies, visually, cinematographically. Well, it turns out that's not the case, but it's still a good movie. In fact I don't put this near the level of Vertical Ray in any way, from performances to music to "the look" of it, etc...    As for the meat of the movie itself and the characters, …
review by . September 23, 2004
SPRING, SUMMER, AUTUMN, WINTER..AND SPRING is one of the most visually beautiful films created. With minimalist means, sets, effects, and dialogue, Director Ki-duk Kim leads us on a journey of the human condition, of the cycle of life using the metaphor of the seasons, and of the struggle for spiritual awakening that must come from within. Set on a floating Buddhist monastery in the middle of a lake surrounded by mountains and mists, an old monk (Yeong-su Oh) is first seen in Spring, observing his …
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Zinta Aistars ()
I am the creative director, writer and editor at Z Word, LLC, and correspondent for southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate station, where I do on-air author interviews.
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About this movie


Working miracles with only a single set and a handful of characters, Korean director Kim Ki-Duk creates a wise little gem of a movie. As the title suggests, the action takes place in five distinct episodes, but sometimes many years separate the seasons. The setting is a floating monastery in a pristine mountain lake, where an elderly monk teaches a boy the lessons of life--although when the boy grows to manhood, he inevitably must learn a few hard lessons for himself. By the time the story reaches its final sections, you realize you have witnessed the arc of existence--not one person's life, but everyone's. It's as enchanting as a Buddhist fable, but it's not precious; Kim (maker of the notoriousThe Isle) consistently surprises you with a sex scene or an explosion of black comedy; he also vividly acts in the Winter segment, when the lake around the monastery eerily freezes.--Robert Horton
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Director: Ki-duk Kim
Genre: Foreign
Screen Writer: Ki-duk Kim
DVD Release Date: September 7, 2004
Runtime: 103 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures
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