Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring (2003) / Drama

MPAA Rated: R for sexuality and nudity
Running Time: 103 min.

Cast: Yeong-soo Oh, Ki-duk Kim, Young-min Kim, Jae-kyeong Seo, Yeo-jin Ha, Jong-ho Kim, Dae-han Ji, Min Choi
Director: Ki-duk Kim
Screenplay: Ki-duk Kim
Review published January 2, 2005

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring is another solid film from writer-director Ki-duk Kim (The Isle, 3-Iron), inspired by Buddhist philosophy its religious symbolism.  The film is divided in five major segments, each representing one of the seasons as mentioned in the title.  As you can imagine, these seasons also correspond to a segment in the life of one of the main characters, although it isn’t solely based on age, but also state of mind.

The story starts in “Spring”.  Set in a lush, isolated lake, a floating Buddhist shrine is surrounded by trees and mountains, where an elderly monk lives with a much younger monk “in training”, as it were.  As monks will do, they pass the time in prayer, meditation, or in learning life’s lessons, and the older monk serves as a wise guide to help the younger one achieve self-knowledge and self-awareness.  In “Summer”, both characters are a little older, and the younger monk must confront new feelings as they have taken an attractive young female as a guest, waiting for her to overcome some affliction.  I won’t continue from this point, as saying much more will represent a spoiling of the film for some, except to say that the future “seasons” continue the life of the younger monk, and that there is a certain cyclical quality to the story that allows the title to make some sense in a literal and symbolic way.

There is great beauty to this subtle but powerful work, and even without a story, there is a tranquil and enjoyable quality to let the sights of the majestic trees and mountains and the serenity of the lake that absorb you into another time and place, even though the film takes place in the modern day.  It is a very spiritual film as well, and those who are open to its lessons will appreciate the film more than others who may be confused if they take every event at face value, although the film does work on both levels.  Like the Buddhist teachings of the monk, the film doesn’t preach, but rather, it lets us gain knowledge through self-reflection, gaining what we will from the experience on our own terms, in our own way.

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring is a movie that will greatly vary among viewers, but will especially reward those with the patience and spirituality to accept the premise and philosophy behind the simple story.  My personal take is that it is a beautiful film visually, and the story is agreeable, although I won’t go so far as to proclaim this as a masterpiece, as some of the more modern elements that trickle in aren’t handled as well as the allegorical qualities that dominate the beginning and end scenes.  Still, it is an experience like few others, and for two hours of interesting and thought-provoking tranquility, it is as refreshing and rejuvenating as a well-deserved vacation.

Qwipster's rating

©2005 Vince Leo