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2 reviews, 9 user ratings

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Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring
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by Stephen Groenewegen

"Beautiful mindfulness"
4 stars

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring is an exquisite meditation on the cycle of life and death. It follows the physical, mental and spiritual development of a man from boyhood to adulthood, with each 25-minute episode tied to a particular season.

In Spring, a Buddhist temple on a floating wooden platform drifts peacefully across a lake. Mist shrouds the surrounding mountains of South Korea’s Juwangsan National Park. An old monk (Oh Young-Su) watches over his apprentice (Kim Jong-Ho), a seven year-old boy, who lives with him in the one-room shrine. On a trip to the shore, child’s play turns to cruelty. The boy attaches a stone to a fish, a frog, and then a snake to see what happens. The old master quietly bides his time, observing, then teaches the boy a lesson that will haunt him forever.

We revisit the boy in Summer as a lustful youth (Seo Jae-Kyung). In Fall, he is a young adult (Kim Young-Min) seeking redemption. Finally, in Winter and Spring (reprise), he is a mature monk, played by writer-director Kim Ki-Duk. A handful of intriguing characters cross his path, including a teenage girl with a sick soul and a woman who conceals her face behind a scarf. The core relationship is that between master and novice, teacher and student, wise man and boy, which is thoroughly transformed before the end of the movie. The individual segments serve as parables in their own right, mostly about the consequences of human actions.

The movie is drenched in symbolism. A different animal is present at the temple in each season (including dog, cat, snake and tortoise). A rooster appears during Summer, the season that awakens the youthful monk’s carnal desire. Appropriately, the rooster signifies lust and craving on the Buddhist “Wheel of life”. The meaning of the other animal symbols was not immediately apparent to me, and probably requires a deeper understanding of Korean Buddhism.

The heavy symbolism is absorbing rather than distracting, because the potent visuals can be enjoyed for what they are as well as what they represent. Kim and cinematographer Baek Dong-Hyun capture the timeless beauty of the monk’s natural surroundings. We track the progress of the seasons by the play of light on water, the colour of the leaves, the freezing of Jusan Pond. The picture perfect photography never feels like prettiness for its own sake, because it is crucial to illustrating the cyclical nature of the story. Bark Ji-Woong’s musical score cleanly matches the images for starkness and poetic intensity.

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring has a meditative tone and unfolds at an unhurried pace. So when brutality erupts, it has a shocking impact. There is minimal dialogue - Winter is virtually completely silent - and no spoon-feeding exposition. Kim’s deliberate ambiguity leaves the allegorical story refreshingly open to wide interpretation. The movie’s images and ideas stimulate your mind as you watch, and stay with you afterwards. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring may also cause you to reflect on your own life, and your place in the world around you, and that’s a claim few films can make.

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originally posted: 09/20/04 17:06:10
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Sydney Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/13/09 vinod its mindblowing 5 stars
5/28/07 lt Director/actor Kim Ki-duk happens to be a Christian. 4 stars
10/05/06 Melissa do you know if the boy monk is the same actor as the boy monk and the end of the movie? is 4 stars
9/24/06 K.Sear A beautiful dreamscape in true Kim Ki-Duk fashion. 4 stars
11/16/04 A F It was pretty good. Thats all I got. 4 stars
10/01/04 bob aislesix loved it; a big fan of buddhism 4 stars
9/10/04 Margaman dialogue is sparse so don't let the subtitles scare you off. Near perfect story in 5 acts. 5 stars
8/18/04 your worst goddamn nightmare A fantastic, sublime little film -- p.s. I only watch good films 5 stars
8/12/04 kc brilliant portrayal of buddhist philosophies, slow if you do not enjoy th direct experience 5 stars
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  02-Apr-2004 (R)
  DVD: 07-Sep-2004



Directed by
  Ki-Duk Kim

Written by
  Ki-Duk Kim

  Yeong-su Oh
  Young-min Kim
  Ki-Duk Kim
  Jae-kyeong Seo
  Yeo-jin Ha
  Jong-ho Kim

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