Summer, Autumn, Winter....Spring
Directed by Ki-duk Kim
Showing at the FACT from 25 June to 1 July
This is a slow reflective film, which is beautifully photographed amid
a stunning setting in the lakes and mountains of Korea. It centres around
the various stages of a man's life, the man in question growing up in a tiny
Buddhist monastery floating on a lake.
In what is in essence a very simple but nevertheless evocative story,
he is an apprentice to an elderly monk, who offers him wise saying on how to
conduct and lead his life.
Spring is the first stage of his life, in which he is severely reprimanded
by his master for tormenting animals and fish by tieing a stone to them
so they are barely able to move. He is punished by having a heavy rock
attached to him, thus making it difficult for him to walk. This episode
in his life is evoked on a number of occasions throughout his life.The memory
of his wrong-doing will always remain with him.
Summer sees him reach puberty and is driven by lust for a young woman.
The monk warns him about becoming too possessive in regard to her. But his
apprentice is love-blind and ignores his advice, leading to tragic
consequences, after he leaves the monastery, when he murders his wife
in a state of jealousy.
Autumn is a dark time of his life. He returns to the monastery, seeking
refuge, following his crime, but is eventually hunted down by the police
and taken away to serve a jail sentence.
This section of the film contains a particularly memorable episode. The
monk paints hundreds of words on to the wooden surrounds of the monastery
with the aid of his cat's tail! As penitence for his evil doing, the monk
orders him, in a labour intensive exercise, to use the same knife he slayed
his wife with to precisely cut out wood from each part of all these words.
Exhausted by his toils, it appears in some way he has atoned to some degree
for his folly.
Winter is represented by the lake being frozen over and the monk, nearing
the end of his life, deliberately burning himself to death. His former
apprentice returns after completing his jail term and acquires a renewed
belief in Buddhism.
The film unfortunately then loses some of its resonance and interest
following the departure of the wise man, who had been the central character
of the story.
Following winter, the season's cycle begins again in spring when he assumes
the role of master to a small child who has been left abandoned following
the death of his mother, who fell into a hole in the frozen lake.