Friday, September 29, 2017

#608: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring

Directed by: KI-DUK KIM
2003, TSPDT Rank #887

Ki-Duk Kim is one of the most controversial directors to emerge from South Korea in recent years, making his mark in the early 2000s with a run of disturbing films about cruelty and violence such as Bad Guy and The Isle. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring was an oddity among this group of films, winning international acclaim and festival awards for its apparently simple tale of a Buddhist monks' journey from childhood to adulthood and, eventually, spiritual mastery.

However, there are a number of disturbing themes in this film as well, which are sometimes masked by the beautiful cinematography of a floating temple and the surrounding forested valley which serve as the film's only settings. In fact, the film's seasonal structure suggests that human nature is cyclical, as well as inherently cruel and violent, even when carefully fostered in a peaceful environment of piety and isolation. The young apprentice tortures animals in the first part of the film, eventually giving in to the temptations of lust and murder, and although he is eventually able to purify his soul through elaborate rituals of self-punishment, his own apprentice is later seen to have inherited the same cruel impulses as he once had (although the versions of the film shown in Western countries only hint at scenes of animal cruelty cut from the original Korean version of the film).

Those who found spiritual solace in the film may have missed the harsh undertones hidden beneath the film's serene and beautiful surface. Kim doesn't take Buddhism literally here (he was raised Christian), instead using it as a symbolic framework for a meditative and disquieting examination of human nature and making many of the films' rituals up himself as a sly inversion of Buddhist teachings. The film has proved successful in the West as an exotic Asian import, but it may take more time for the film's true meaning to be grasped by a wider audience.

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