SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER...AND SPRING (BOM YEOREUM GAEUL GYEOUL GEURIGO BOM) (Kim Ki-duk, 2003)
I'm as guilty as the next person when it comes to getting caught up in the fast pace of modern society. Zip, zip, zip. SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER...AND SPRING (BOM YEOREUM GAEUL GYEOUL GEURIGO BOM) provides an oasis from contemporary rhythms.
The film is broken into the seasons and the corresponding times in the life of a boy who will evenutally assume his master's role. A Buddhist master and his pupil reside on a platform in the middle of a lake. The lush valley they inhabit is far removed from the rush of society. Here time stands still. If it weren't for the rare visitor wearing jeans or carrying a cell phone, placing the film in a specific Korean era would be nearly impossible.
The old monk (Oh Yeong-su) observes the boy (Seo Jae-kyeong) and instructs him when necessary. One day he sees the boy catch a fish and tie a rock around it, laughing as it struggles to swim. The boy repeats this with a frog and a snake. That night the monk ties a rock around the sleeping boy. He awakens to his burden and complains to the monk. The master gently explains that the boy can now understand what his actions forced the animals to endure. For his rock to be removed, he must find the creatures and untie them. Using a strategy reflective of the film's overall approach, Kim shows the boy learning a powerful lesson of harmonic living with nature rather than having him receive verbal instruction in ethical conduct.
SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER...AND SPRING is a film of few but select words. Like the evaporating characters that the monk writes with water, words are insignificant compared to being and action. For another lesson the master paints symbols on the deck with the help of a mewling cat whose tail he dips in ink. He tells his adult pupil to carve out the symbols with his knife as a manner of excising his aggression. The symbols' inherent value is in the pupil's task instead of their denotation.
Seasons change and the boy becomes a young man (Kim Young-min). He meets a girl (Ha Yeo-jin) and abandons his study for life in civilization. Seasons change again, with troubles instigating the adult's (Kim Ki-duk) return to his master's feet. Pupil becomes master, and the cycle continues.
A solemn film, SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER...AND SPRING grants time to meditate. Kim encourages us to luxuriate in the valley's exceptional beauty and slower pace of life. The verdant forest provides a soothing buffer from the outside world. The rock formations bespeak of the land's permanence. Baek Dong-hyeon's breathtaking cinematography aids Kim in giving us a greater appreciation for this world. The colors of the changing leaves pop. Ice encases nature in translucent glass and transforms the beauty.
A stunning shot near the film's end reveals a mountaintop view of the lake and the floating monastery. Here Kim puts our existence in perspective. SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER...AND SPRING presents the beautiful contrast between nature's time and our time. Things change, things stay the same. The world will go on. We would do well to acknowledge it.