https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=9583&reviewer=233

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

Reviewed By Collin Souter
Posted 05/17/04 14:45:22

"And the cycle repeats itself...beautifully"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Sex! Death! Murder! Cruelty to animals! Vengeance! Yeah, “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring” is one juicy little movie. It explores the deepest, darkest depths of the human soul and takes no prisoners. Guns, martial arts, men and women frolicking naked in the mountains, not to mention cinema’s most tormented pussy cat since “Cat’s Eye,” this movie has plenty bravura and chutzpah to keep the viewer on the edge of their seats. It even features the main character getting tortured and, at one point, torturing himself. “Passion of the Christ” fans, take notice. Have I got a movie for you! Yeah, this movie has it all…but not at all how I described.

Actually, “Spring, Summer…” is one of the quietest, gentlest movies I’ve ever seen. It does feature everything I mentioned in the above paragraph, but in the complete opposite form in which I mentioned them. This is a movie about two characters, a Monk and his Master, and how they learn of the harsh world outside far from their floating raft of a house where they pick herbs from the forest and use them to help the sick. While the title may suggest a story that takes place over the course of a year, it actually takes place over decades. Each segment of the film teaches a valuable lesson in tolerance, karma, the dangers of love and the great circle of life.

The first segment, “Spring,” features the Monk as a young boy. He and his Master (who may or may not be his real father. We never know) live in a house in the center of a lake surrounded by mountains. They take their rowboat out to collect herbs. One day, Young Monk decides to have some fun with the little animals he catches. He takes a fish, a frog and a snake and ties a rock to each of them so they cannot move or swim away. His Master catches him doing this and decides to teach him a most valuable lesson: How would you like it if I did the same to you? He finds out.

There exists another component to this story, that of what Young Monk finds when he is sent out to retrieve each of the animals he tortured. His reaction to the outcome of his cruel actions will have a detrimental effect on him that will carry through his adulthood. More on that later. The second segment, “Summer,” features the Monk as a teenager. A Woman and her Mother visit the Monk and his Master to use their herbs. The Woman, Monk’s age, is ill and needs treatment. She stays with them for a while. Eventually, a romance ensues between the Monk and the Woman, one that will alter the course of both their lives.

So, where does all the sex, death and vengeance come into play? I’ll leave that for you to see. The movie’s main focus is the relationship between The Monk and his Master. The Master never leaves the area. He remains a permanent fixture of this tranquil landscape, one The Monk can always turn to when in trouble. The Master sees much of himself in The Monk. He offers guidance and truisms as though they come from true experience, which they probably do, seeing as how the movie’s main theme has a lot to do with the essence of karma.
The Monk is a troubled character who abides by all his Master’s wishes and wisdom. The Monk never lashes out at him, as we think he would. In fact, The Master has that kind of look in his eyes where you cannot help but pay attention and act when he asks you to. When two visitors come by later in the film to take care of unpleasant business, The Master soon has them helping out with an exorcise in meditation. Not as a power play, but to help extend the philosophy beyond the realm of structured religion. Sometimes, we could all use a little meditation time.

And where better to do it than in the mountains of Korea? “Spring, Summer…” is one of those great films like Zhang Yimou’s “The Road Home” where the natural setting and just the right lens are all one needs to create breathtaking visual splendor. Every nook and cranny of the house gets explored just as every leaf on every tree adds something to the poetry of the landscape. The house appears to be moving, floating in some shots, while remaining still in a shot that immediately follows. It perfectly represents the dichotomy of a story that is constantly moving forward, even if the results keep coming back to this solitary, still place.

At the heart of this quiet, hypnotic generational epic are tough, pressing questions: Are murderers born or are they created through time? Will what goes around really come around? Is sex just as good a remedy as a natural herb? A better one? If love and sex are natural, instinctual desires of men and women, what about murder? What does the Monk’s torturing of animals have to do with his cold heart? Or even his lust? What does The Master know that we don’t and how does he know it? Finally… Who was that woman?

Maybe it doesn’t matter. Director Kim Ki-duk, who also wrote and edited the film, would like to keep some of those questions unanswered. “Spring, Summer…” is a perfect film for people who either want to challenge their intellect or to simply bask in the glow of a movie’s natural, meditative state. Sure, it’s fun to indulge in a sex/violence/murder extravaganza to get our kicks, but “Spring, Summer…” is that rare movie that offers something complex, thoughtful and poetic on those juicy subjects. That tagline won’t exactly pack ‘em in at the multiplexes, but I for one am completely sold on the idea.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.