I usually have to steel myself for watching a Kim Ki-Duk film.
Ki- Duk has made a name in Korea as an uncompromising director:
his films are brutal, and frequently take as their protagonists
criminals and prostitutes, the marginal and the selfharming.
Tracing the education of a young monk from childhood to old age,
each episode illustrated by a different season, Spring, Summer,
Autumn, Winter… and Springmight seem at first glance to be
an anomaly in his oeuvre. But beyond its poetic composition and
references to Buddhist mysticism, it deals with the same
alienated and marginal characters struggling to attain some kind
of peace. The setting is a floating Buddhist monastery in the middle of
a remote lake in present-day Korea. In the film’s first
chapter, an elderly monk educates a small boy, whom he teaches to
treat the natural world with respect. The boy torments a fish, a
frog and a snake by tying heavy stones to them, and the old monk
does the same thing to the child, warning him that he will always
carry such a burden in his heart. When we next see the boy, he is
an adolescent, in love with a sick girl brought to the temple to
be cured. The monk cautions him that lust turns into the desire
to possess which in turn leads to murder. The boy ignores the
advice and goes out into the world. He returns to the monastery
at later points in his life, first in Autumn and the in Winter,
and on each visit we see the elder man’s prophesies borne
out, the inter-rim incidents linking Spring, Summer… to the
themes of Ki-Duk’s earlier works. By the time we return to
the Spring, the man himself is now an old monk, living in the
monastery, raising a child as he himself was raised. The film is characterised by the fine balance between
truncated anecdotes and a nuanced sense of time passing.
Incidents gather resonance between episodes, so that the monks
collect leaves in the first episode for a medicine that we see in
the second. In the small monastery, the painted wood, simple
alter and bird-shaped wind chimes accrue a poignant familiarity
over the decades of the narrative. Although not as gut-wrenching as some of Ki-Duk’s
previous works, the film is certainly as melancholy. The
director’s real divergence from his usual path is in the
hope with which he imbues the film. It’s a very rare thing
indeed to come out of a cinema floating on a cloud of goodwill,
and an ever rarer one to come out of Kim Ki-Duk film in such a
state. But Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Springseems to
be able to transfer some of the calm and inner peace of the
Buddhist faith on which it meditates, even as far as Jericho.ARCHIVE: 5th week TT 2004