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

The seasons in the title of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring mark the passage of time and symbolize the stages in the life of man. Everything is centered on a small floating shrine in a lake surrounded by tall, tree covered mountains. The setting is the most striking element of Kim Ki-Duk's (Coast Guard, Bad Guy) film. It is absolutely gorgeous. The shrine is a pristine hideaway, filmed on a 200 year-old man made Jusan Pond in the Korean province of North Kyungsang Province. There is a timelessness to the setting, and it isn't until later that one realizes that the film takes place in the present. The camera revels in the beauty of the lake and its surrounding environs, with languid tracking shots. Kim is extremely sparse with dialogue, perfectly willing to let the images wash over the viewer, and this also makes what happens in the film take on a larger significance.

Spring, Summer, Fall begins with an old monk (Oh Yeong-Su, A Little Monk) and a child monk (Kim Jong-Ho). There are no names in the film, and none are really necessary. They pass the day doing small chores and in prayer, with the old monk frequently imparting some lesson on the child. At one point, like any curious child, the boy ties a string to various animals to see how they will react. As a lesson, the old monk ties a rock to his back and tells him to free the animals. Later, as a young man (Seo Jae-Kyeong, Wild Card, Love is Oh-Yeah), he falls in love with a girl (Ha Yeo-Jin) sent to the small island to recuperate from an illness. The old monk warns him that lust leads to murder, which seems a little harsh, but soon the boy runs off to the world in order to be with the girl.

He returns later as a young adult (Kim Young-Min, Address Unknown) under very different circumstances, and later stays and grows old, and is now played by Kim Ki-Duk. Each season is like a chapter, where each chapter signifies on part of the life of the monk. There is a circle of life feel to the film, but don't let this pithy comparison be a detraction. There is a contemplative, poetic feel to the film, and every word feels important. Kim posits that life is a learning experience, and that one must learn from one's mistakes in order to move forward. The outside world is too unnecessarily complicated. Life on the island is simpler, maybe even purer.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 43 minutes, Korean with English subtitles, Rated R for some strong sexuality.

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