From a visual standpoint, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring is quite pure. With hardly any dialogue and almost no explanation, Korean director Kim Ki-duk’s artistic choices are fitting of a film dealing with the lives of two individuals existing together in Buddhist ritual. I was not deeply moved, but I respect the profound simplicities found within.
- Director: Kim Ki-duk
- Writer: Kim Ki-duk
- Cast: Oh Yeong-su, Kim Young-min, Seo Jae-kyung, Kim Jong-ho, Ha Yeo-jin
A young boy grows up in a temple that floats within an isolated landscape surrounded by mountains. The film is divided into five segments, with each segment taking place years apart from each other and corresponding to the seasons that make up the title. The boy (Seo Jae Kyung) lives with a Buddhist master (Oh Young Soo), who seems to be raising him to be a Buddhist monk. But before the boy’s transformation takes place, tough life lessons must be learned.
Spring… is essentially a coming of age story. It’s a simple story, and while it doesn’t contain any major twists, it manages to achieve the type of quiet suspense that comes with self discovery. We never really know where the film is headed, only that the boy must learn from his master as he encounters his own curiosities about life, particularly those concerning nature and love. By limiting the dialogue and mesmerizing us with great compositions of the surrounding landscape, Ki-duk’s film works on a meditative level, adding much to the resonance of its subject matter. The weakest part of the film is probably the acting, especially that of the little boy. While it doesn’t take away too much from the film, it feels a bit too staged at times.
In terms of visual storytelling, Ki-duk achieves magic, creating a film that might be just as enthralling without any dialogue. Much of the serene atmosphere is made possible by Baek Dong-hyeon’s cinematography, which is also further enhanced by Bark Jee-woong’s score. Both of these elements are well displayed at the end of the film in a long rotating shot taken from behind the young man as he looks out into the distance. Relying almost purely on visual and aural elements, Ki-duk takes us beyond the surface of what we see. Several wide shots of the temple surrounded by fog are quite breathtaking, some done at night and others by day. There is also a lot of rich texture and a type of ritualistic bodily movement throughout the film. In these scenes, not only do we get a sense of being one with nature, but we also get a sense of repetition and the cycles of life.
Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:
Of the films for which Ki-duk has earned his widest international acclaim, Spring… is not one of them. I have not seen his other films, but from what I’ve read, some of them seem to be quite violent and somewhat cruel to animals. As Ebert’s review points out, it is interesting that the same director has provided such a captivating sense of serenity and mysticism. This fact alone makes me wonder whether Ebert, to some extent, added this film to his list of “great movies” in part due to such an unexpected surprise. But that’s not to say that this film isn’t deserving of praise, though I think my only reservation in elevating it to “great” status is based on the feeling that wasn’t as transcendent as I hoped or expected. I enjoyed this film, but ultimately didn’t feel as deeply moved as Ebert seems to have been. However, I do agree in theory with his analysis and observations in his review. I may have to revisit this one in the future and see how it holds up.
Good, Bad or Great Movie: GOOD
Do you like Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring? Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?
Next week’s review: Stroszek
Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, a monolith of celluloid currently comprised of approximately 363 films (more if you count the trilogies, the Up docs and Decalogue). Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response. By taking on Kim Ki-duk’s Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring this week, he now has 344 under his belt and less than 30 films left to go.