SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER...AND SPRING
Review by Ed Nguyen
Yeong-su Oh, Ki-duk Kim, Young-min Kim, Yeo-jin Ha
Director: Ki-duk Kim
Audio: Korean 5.1
Subtitles: English, French
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Length: 102 minutes
Release Date: September 7, 2004
will carry the stone in your heart for the rest of your life."
of the more memorable Korean films in recent years has been Bom
yeoreum gaeul gyeoul geurigo bom (Spring,
Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring, 2003).
A deceptively simple tale of a life's journey for an old Buddhist monk
and his young disciple, the film traces the pupil's development from his early
training through his adolescent rites of passage and finally to the rationality
and wisdom of age. Set amongst the
tranquil mountain waters and isolated valleys of the wilderness, the film
foregoes narrative conventions (and even dialogue, for the most part), instead
weaving a tapestry of images and allegorical passages which touch upon the very
nature of human existence. The film
is, in short, a metaphor for the circle of life itself.
Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring is divided into "seasons" which follow the course of the
boy's life as he matures into the role of his elder master.
In the springtime of his youth, the child serves under the wise but
taciturn monk (Yeong-su Oh), tending to his few needs and following his
guidance. Together, master and
child live upon an isolated, floating temple that rests in the serene waters of
the mountains, softly swaying with the breezes yet never drifting afar.
The two are completely alone, for there is naught about them save for the
creatures of the wild. Whatever
lessons of life and death that are to be learned by the young disciple arise
from observing the quiet interactions of the old Buddhist monk with this natural
wisdom can only be imparted through the lessons taught by experience.
Lacking this insight, the soul is doomed to repeat its mistakes in a
ceaseless cycle. Only by
recognizing the inherent flaws in one's own nature can the soul transcend its
earthly, mortal bounds. The elderly
mentor does not preach to his young disciple so much as allow the boy to
discover for himself the inevitable consequences that arise from his actions or
the emotions of lust, anger, or sorrow.
the film's first chapter, the boy, in a transient moment of boredom, explores
the surrounding forests. He
playfully torments the small animals of the woods, as a child is wont to do, by
impeding their mobility with stones tied to them.
Only later, under the omniscient watch of the monk, is the child made to
experience for himself and ultimately comprehend the error and poignant
consequences of his act.
the second chapter, the young disciple has matured into adolescence.
One day, in a stroll along the woody paths, he encounters a mother and
daughter traversing the glens and valleys of this region.
The daughter (Yeo-jin Ha) is ill, and the mother has brought her on this
long journey to seek out the old Buddhist master for healing.
The daughter's wound is a spiritual one, for which the medicines of
Western culture have no cure. This
is the first introduction of the outside world into the isolation of the monks,
and the presence of the girl draws forth new and uncertain feelings within the
disciple, for whom the yearnings of adolescence begin to arise.
Through this segment, and more tragically into the "fall"
chapter, the disciple will learn about the potent and sometimes terrible
ramifications that love and unhindered emotion can inflict upon a fallible soul.
later, the pupil has abandoned the teachings of his Master.
However, he has become trapped in a self-created quagmire of emotional
torment, and he must conquer his inner turmoil before he can find peace.
In the imminent autumn of his years, the former disciple returns from the
alienation of the outside world to seek out his old Master for a final lesson.
The old monk teaches him the Prajnaparamita Sutra to soothe the restless
anger in his soul.
the film's "winter" segment, the disciple, now a wiser man (Ki-duk
Kim), is alone in his solitude. Having
forsaken the outside world, he has atoned for the errors of his youth and has
returned to his former home, the floating temple on the water.
In the wintry snows, the waters have frozen, and the temple is long
abandoned. The disciple must slowly
restore the building, bringing life and animation back within its small
enclosure and performing the final rites of respect for his former old Master.
the conclusion of the film, the tale has come full circle.
The student has transformed into the new and wise mentor, caring for an
infant orphan left in his care. Whether
these final moments are to be considered reflections of the circular flow of
life or of reincarnation itself , or whether the ending represents the passage
of wisdom from one generation to the next, is up to the viewer to decide.
The film's Zen simplicity, embracing a compassion for all things living,
suggests that in all of us lies the strength to transcend our human faults and
desires through the accumulated wisdom of our lives' sometime-painful lessons.
story to Spring, Summer, Fall,
Winter...and Spring is a simple one that is open to individual
interpretation. As the film
contains very little dialogue, its themes are imparted through a juxtaposition
of imagery and subtle symbolism. What
we ourselves learn from the film does not require any background in Tao Buddhism
per se but, rather, is fundamental to the very essence of humanity.
How we live, how we choose to interact with one another, and how we deal
with the tribulations of our own conflicts are at the very core of this
remarkably spiritual Korean film, and that transcends all religions or
Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring is an entirely visual film and has received a decent transfer to DVD.
The bit transfer rate averages around 4 Mbps.
Colors are crisp and natural in appearance, and there are no incongruous
mastering artifacts. The grain is
moderate but with generally solid contrast levels.
films tend not to do very well in the U.S. for the simple reason that most
Americans do not like to read subtitles. Fortunately,
while Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and
Spring is presented in Korean 5.1, the dialogue is extremely sparse and
almost nonexistent. The soundtrack
thus consists mostly of an ethereal score and natural sounds - the flowing of
streams, the rustling of leaves and branches, and the cries of untamed wildlife.
Furthermore, the rhythmic ambiance of Buddhist chants adds an almost
hypnotic aura to the film's soundtrack. The
result is a universally-appealing film that anyone can enjoy or perhaps draw
inspiration from without fretting over too many subtitles.
offerings are quite spartan here. Aside
from a trailer for this film and others for Zhou
Yu's Train (starring Gong Li), Carandiru,
Broken Wings (a multiple Award-winning
Israeli film), Winged Migration (a
celebrated avian documentary) and Young Adams (a mystery starring Ewan McGregor), there are no further