Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring


Korean writer/director Ki-duk Kim has achieved an extraordinary feat with Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring – a young Westerner found beauty and magic in a Korean Buddhist temple.

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring is divided into the five sections from the title, and each is shot to portray the physical stage of the life of the hero, and also the surrounding stage of the seasons. Eventually, this leads to a circular closure, with its attendant message made abundantly clear. Each segment is stunning in appearance. I loved especially Spring and Winter – the flowing waters of the creeks in Spring versus the frozen stillness of Winter.

The segments also convey to us the stages in emotional development of our hero, the young boy who grows to become the master. Spring shows us his youth, and harsh lessons at the hand of the old monk. In Summer, his sexuality awakens, and by Autumn this has had the dire consequences predicted. In Winter, he is able to elevate himself above those mistakes, bringing him to Spring again.

To say that I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. After the amazing initial sequence, introducing the location of a temple on a raft in a lake, then the exploration of the boyhood (Spring) of the protagonist, I felt sure this would be one of my all-time favourites. The opening 15 minutes are breathtaking. The cinematography is superb; the surrounds, shot in a South Korean National Park, are vividly brought to life. The simple lesson learnt in the first segment, Spring, is obvious and yet elegant.

I did, however, feel that the Summer and Autumn sections were less powerful. The director only allows us outside of the lake in its bowl-shaped valley once, when the girl and her mother arrives, and I felt this weakened the feeling of the valley being the whole world, which I’m sure he was trying to portray. I would have preferred he had stayed within his defined world. Nonetheless, it is the impact of the outside that triggers the evolution inside.

I am sure I did not understand this film fully – there are some Buddhist and Korean specific images and notions that I was unable to fully comprehend. In this respect, I felt this film did not reach me quite as powerfully as it may have, had it been using Western/Christian imagery. However, the sheer beauty, and the basic truths told, gave me enough to work with, and the effect was powerful and moving. I felt for the young man; his mistakes, his lessons, and his learning. In many respects, this allegory does apply to me and my peers, giving it more impact.

Beautifully constructed, breathtakingly shot, and movingly portrayed, this film is amazing.

Rating: 4.0 stars
Review by Mark Lavercombe, 6th October 2004
Hoopla Factor: 4.0 stars

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