Hitherto best-known amongst Asian cinema connoisseurs for such violent fare as The Isle and Bad Guy, Korean writer-director Kim Ki-Duk casts off his bad-boy reputation with magical fable Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... And Spring. The film's dreamlike setting is a beautiful lake, surrounded by mountains and forests, and on whose waters floats a small wooden temple. Here live an elderly monk (Oh Young-Soo) and his mischievous child pupil (Seo Jae-Kyung). We follow the turbulent passage of the latter's life without moving away from this enclosed environment.
Over the course of the film's five concise chapters, Spring, Summer... explores a whole range of human experiences: the pleasure and pain of desire, joy and sorrow, guilt and atonement, thoughtlessness and awareness, death and rebirth. Representatives of the outside world impinge on the lives of the central duo, with the arrival (in Summer) of a young woman seeking treatment for a mysterious illness causing the now teenage monk (Kim Young-Min) to fall passionately in love. "Lust awakens the desire to possess," his unnamed mentor warns prophetically, "which ends in the intent to murder."
Animals serve as a recurrent motif within the individual sections, from the frogs and snakes around whose bodies the kid maliciously ties stones, to the cat whose tail is used to paint the calligraphic sutra, an action designed to cleanse a person's anger. And there are plenty of other imaginative touches, such as the stand-alone and often flooded door that serves as an unusual entrance to the lake.
"KI-DUK IMPRESSIVELY FUSES STYLE AND CONTENT"
Ki-Duk, who himself takes on a key role in the Winter segment, impressively fuses style and content. He doesn't judge the actions of his characters or rely on Buddhist sermonising to convey the film's ideas. Instead he achieves a sense of serenity through ravishing images of nature, contemplative pacing and the elegance of his storytelling, without losing sight of the burdens of our existence.
In Korean with English subtitles.
Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... And Spring is released in UK cinemas on Friday 14th May 2004.