SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER...AND SPRING

R
Reviews

On a floating Buddhist temple on a Korean lake, a boy (Seo Jae-kyeong) grows to manhood during the eponymous seasons of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring, under the tutelage of a tirelessly perspicacious, stoic monk (Oh Yeong-su). The boy's childishly cruel games involving defenseless animals turn into adolescent lust when a sickly girl (Ha Yeo-jin) joins the two in their monastery. As an adult, the monk's teachings having obviously failed, he becomes a criminal in the outside world, eventually returning to his childhood home to fulfill his destiny.

Kim Ki-duk is, without a doubt, a master filmmaker, and his film is a one-of-a-kind achievement--like nature itself, both elementally simple and complexly beautiful. His camera achieves real eye-of-God stature in some of the most visually stunning images ever recorded: that idyllic temple in all seasons, from gloriously lush summer to flame-hewed fall; forest creatures, empathically captured; nubile young lovers trysting by a waterfall; and the frozen lake which recalls D.W. Griffith's biblical perception of ice in Way Down East. These are more than merely lovely; each frame seems to illuminate the Buddhist teachings of universal kindness and the achievement, however rocky, of inner peace. There's a hushed calm permeating the film that is appropriately Zen-like, and you watch, utterly hypnotized, by this masterly vision.

The exquisite temple itself is a character, as well as a metaphor for the idyllic escape from weltering humanity everyone must crave at one time or another. Oh's performance is both deadpan-funny and infuriating, the way all those imperturbably right sage-types can be. Seo is one of the most enchanting child actors in all cinema, his face a fluent canvas of burgeoning perception. As the teenager, Kim Yeong-min is sturdy and sexy, the very image of thwarted normalcy, which makes his subsequent history all the more heartbreaking.

-David Noh