Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring

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Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring
SpringSummerFall.jpg
Hangul
Revised Romanization Bom yeoreum gaeul gyeoul geurigo bom
McCune–Reischauer Pom yŏrŭm kaŭl kyŏul kŭrigo pom
Directed by Kim Ki-duk
Produced by Karl Baumgartner
Lee Seung-jae
Written by Kim Ki-duk
Starring Oh Yeong-su
Kim Young-min
Seo Jae-kyung
Kim Jong-ho
Ha Yeo-jin
Music by Bark Jee-woong
Cinematography Baek Dong-hyeon
Editing by Kim Ki-duk
Distributed by Cineclick Asia
Release dates
  • September 19, 2003 (2003-09-19)
Running time 103 minutes
Country South Korea
Germany
Language Korean
Box office $9,524,745

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring is a 2003 South Korean film about a Buddhist monastery that floats on a lake in a pristine forest. The story is about the life of a Buddhist monk as he passes through the seasons of his life, from childhood to old age.

The movie was directed by Kim Ki-duk, and stars Su Oh-yeong, Kim Young-min, Seo Jae-kyung, and Kim Jong-ho. The director himself appears as the man in the last stage of life. The quiet, contemplative film marked a significant change from his previous works, which were often criticized for excessive violence and misogyny.

The film was released in the United States in 2004 by Sony Pictures Classics, in subtitle format.

Synopsis[edit]

The film is divided into five segments (the five seasons of the title), each segment depicting a different stage in the life of a novice Buddhist monk and his old teacher. The segments are roughly ten to twenty years apart, and the action of each takes place during the season of its title. The story unfolds rather simply, but the implications of the characters' actions are silently commented upon by the presence of various Buddhist symbols and iconography.

Spring[edit]

We are introduced to the life of the very young Buddhist apprentice living with his master on a small floating monastery, drifting on a lake in the serene forested mountains of Korea. The apprentice and his master live a life of prayer and meditation, using an old rowboat to reach the bank of the lake where they regularly go walking, for exercise and to collect herbs. One day, in a creek amongst the rocky hills, the apprentice torments a fish by tying a small stone to it with string and laughing as it struggles to swim. Shortly after, he does the same to a frog and a snake; his master quietly observes on all three occasions, and that night ties a large, smooth rock to the apprentice as he sleeps. In the morning, he tells his apprentice that he cannot take off the rock until he unties the creatures he tormented - adding that if any of them have died, he will "carry the stone in his heart forever". The boy struggles with the load on his back through the forest, and finds the fish, lying dead at the bottom of the creek, finds the frog still alive and struggling where he left it, and finds the snake in a pool of blood, presumably attacked and killed by another animal, unable to get away. The master watches as the boy begins to cry heavily at seeing what he has done to the snake..

Summer[edit]

The apprentice (now in his teenage years) encounters a mother and daughter (dressed in modern clothes, indicating that the film takes place in modern times) walking along the forest path, looking for the monastery. The apprentice silently greets them and rows them across the lake to the monastery, where a colorful rooster is now part of the household. In Buddhist art this bird is the representation of desire and craving.[1] The daughter has an unspecified illness (she displays symptoms of a fever) and has been brought to the Buddhist master by her mother, hoping that she will be healed. The master agrees to take in the teenage girl for a time, and the mother leaves. Over the next few days, the apprentice finds himself sexually attracted to the girl, but is too shy to say anything; however, when he finds her sleeping in front of the Buddha statue, he is unable to resist groping her chest. She wakes up and slaps him. In a guilty panic, the apprentice begins to pray incessantly, something his master notes as strange. Touching the apprentice's shoulder, the girl seems to forgive him. Eventually, the two wander off into the forest alone and have sex. They repeat the act over the next few nights, hiding their relationship from the master, until he discovers them asleep and naked, drifting around the lake in the rowboat. He wakes them up by pulling the plug out of a drain hole in the boat. Rather than expressing anger or disappointment, he merely warns his apprentice that "lust leads to desire for possession, and possession leads to murder", but does tell him that the girl will have to leave. The apprentice is distraught and runs away from the monastery at night in pursuit of the girl, taking the monastery's Buddha statue and the rooster with him. The implications of his two thefts are that while he is burdened with his craving as symbolized by the bird, he also has with him the "burden" of his master's teachings as symbolized by the Buddha statue.

Fall[edit]

Many years later, during the Fall, the aging master returns from a supply run to the local village, bringing an old cat in his backpack. In the Far East the cat is often seen in art as the cosseted pet of courtesans (e.g. in ukiyo-e prints), and is, therefore, often taken as signifying lasciviousness. However, in Korean folkloric belief the cat can be the expeller of evil spirits.[2] By chance the master glimpses a story about his former apprentice in a newspaper: he is wanted for the murder of his wife. Foreseeing the apprentice's return, he modifies the teenage monk's garments by hand, and soon afterward the adult apprentice appears in the spiritual door at the lake's edge, still full of anger and carrying the bloodstained knife with which he stabbed his wife for having an affair with another man. Unwilling to go on, he seals his eyes, mouth and nose in a suicide ritual and sits in front of the newly returned Buddha statue, waiting for death. The master discovers him, and beats him ruthlessly, professing that while he may have killed his wife, he will not kill himself so easily. He ties his bloodied apprentice to the ceiling and sets a candle to slowly burn through the rope, then begins writing out the"Heart Sutra" on the monastery deck, holding the cat in his arms and dipping its tail into a bowl of black ink. The apprentice eventually falls, and beginning his repentance, cuts his hair off and is ordered to carve the Chinese characters into the wood to quiet his heart. Two detectives arrive at the monastery to arrest the apprentice, but the master asks them to allow him until the next day to finish his task. The apprentice continues throughout the night and collapses into sleep immediately upon finishing. Influenced by the soothing presence of the master, the detectives help the old monk paint his apprentice's carvings in orange, green, blue and purple. This appears to quiet their hearts as well.

The apprentice wakes up and is peacefully taken away by the detectives, with the cat accompanying them in the back of the boat. After they leave, the master, knowing that his life is at its end, builds a pyre in the rowboat. He seals shut his ears, eyes, nose and mouth with paper in the same death ritual his apprentice performed and meditates as he is suffocated and burned to death. The masters tears can be seen through the paper seals as he is engulfed in flame.

Winter[edit]

Paroled, the now middle-aged apprentice returns to the frozen lake and to his former home, which has been drifting uninhabited for years. During this segment the animal motif is the snake, the Buddhist symbol of anger.[1] As He finds his master's clothes, laid out just before his death, and digs his master's teeth out of the frozen rowboat. He carves a statue of the Buddha out of ice, wraps his master's "sarira" (small crystals sometimes found among cremated remains of monks, and regarded as sacred relics), in red cloth, and sets them in the statue under a waterfall. He finds a book of choreographic meditative stances, and begins to train and exercise in the freezing weather. Eventually, a woman comes to the monastery with her baby son and a shawl wrapped around her face. She leaves her son and flees into the night, but as she runs across the frozen lake she accidentally stumbles into a hole in the ice dug by the monk. He finds her body the next day, and he removes her from the water to look at her face, although it is not shown to viewers. Finally completing his long self-discipline, he ties the monastery's large, circular grinding stone to his body. It is emblematic of the Buddhist bhavachakra,[1] the wheel of life and rebirth, and he takes a statue of the Buddha-to-come, Maitreya from the monastery, and he goes to climb to the summit of the tallest of the surrounding mountains. As he climbs, dragging the stone wheel behind him and struggling to carry the statue, he reflects upon the fish, the frog, and the snake he tormented. Finally attaining the summit, he prays and leaves the statue seated on top of the circular grinding stone, overlooking the monastery in the lake far below.

...and Spring[edit]

Returning to "Spring" again, the cycle recommences: the new master lives in the monastery with the abandoned baby, now his apprentice. The boy is shown tormenting a turtle, ominously a traditional symbol of longevity and prognosticating the future.[2] Wandering into the rocky hills, the boy echoes his predecessor, forcing stones into the mouths of a fish, frog and snake (these last scenes were deleted in the U.S. release of the movie). But in the film's final moments the camera retreats to the top of the mountain showing the statue of the future Buddha Maitreya seated atop the wheel, his down-turned face regarding the little monastery far below. This final shot is a counterweight to the gloomy implications of the new boy novice's repetition of the wicked deeds of his teacher's childhood. In Buddhist belief Maitreya will be born on earth and become a successor to the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, in order to revitalize Buddhist teachings, so that humans will again be instructed in how to escape the Wheel of Life and Rebirth, a role clearly indicated by the Maitreya statue sitting firmly over the stone wheel. Thus, the film ends with the silent affirmation that there can be release from the cyclical consequences of willful, harmful actions.

Production[edit]

Kim Ki-duk said of the film: "I intended to portray the joy, anger, sorrow and pleasure of our lives through four seasons and through the life of a monk who lives in a temple on Jusan Pond surrounded only by nature."[3]

Set[edit]

"The hermitage that is the stage for SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER... AND SPRING is an artificially constructed set made to float on top of Jusan Pond in Cheongsong County, North Gyeongsang Province in South Korea. Created about 200 years ago, Jusan Pond is an artificial lake in which the surrounding mountains are reflected in its waters. It retains the mystical aura of having trees more than one hundred years old still growing along its shores. LJ Film was able to obtain permission to build the set after finally convincing the Ministry of Environment through six months of negotiations."[3]

Reception[edit]

The film received universal acclaim, holding a 95% "Fresh" rating on film review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes and 85 out of 100 on Metacritic.[4][5]

One of the scenes near the end of the film was excised from the international version of the film, likely due to its animal cruelty.[6]

The critic Roger Ebert included the film in his list of great movies.[7]

Music[edit]

The traditional song used near the end of the film, while the adult monk is climbing the mountain, is called "Jeongseon Arirang", sung by Kim Young-im. The film score was composed by Ji Bark.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Chi-hwa-seon
Blue Dragon Film Award for Best Film
2003
Succeeded by
Silmido
Preceded by
Memories of Murder
Grand Bell Award for Best Film
2004
Succeeded by
Marathon