July 17, 2005

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring (2003)
Grade: 75/100

Director: Ki-duk Kim
Stars: Yeong-su Oh, Young-min Kim, Yeo-jin Ha

What it's about. A temple of some sort, located somewhere in Asia, is resident to a middle-aged wise/holy man and his occasional servant, who is sometimes a child, and sometimes (presumably, the same person) a young man. And in one chapter, the holy man is a young man, presumably, to age into the older holy man.

And stuff happens, between impenetrable symbolism, and foreign language writing and singing of no comprehension to the present writer.

How others will see it. It's a beautiful movie. The cinematography is excellent, the direction astute, the message inscrutable. No one who sees this movie will truly understand it, and the western observer is least likely of all to decipher it. Best not try, and simply enjoy this exotic fruit for what it is. Whatever that might be.

How I felt about it. Inscrutable, indeed. A woman suffers from depression, and her mother, for some reason, leads her to the holy man to heal. I forgot to mention (no I didn't) that the woman is young, and gorgeous enough to be a fashion model. The holy man's disciple promptly seduces her, to his own surprise and the old man's disinterest. That is, until the hot to trot couple uses his boat as a hotel substitute. Then, he breaks up the young lovers, giving his disciple the odd (yet prescient) admonition that if a man wants a woman, it will lead to murder.

Curious events continue throughot the rest of the chapters. A mystery woman, bandaged up like the opening scene of The Invisible Man, shows up. Will her face ever be revealed? The director teases but does not deliver. The fish, frog, snake, and child all have stones again during the Winter scene.

Why? Oh, I suppose someone (especially the director, or possibly a pretentious critic) could dream up a reason. Or, a reason for the holy man to immolate himself. Or, to make his former disciple carve letters on the front porch, which for all we know represent, "Thou Shalt Not Kill," or perhaps, "I Will Not Give Myself Bad Haircuts" written 1,000 times, like a humorless school teacher disciplining a feckless student.

No, the story doesn't make sense, at least not to a film critic born in Omaha. Beyond the obvious 'cycle of life' theme, which implies that kids raised by Buddhist monks will kill their wives. But the movie is fascinating nonetheless, and quite pretty to look at. And I'm not just referring to the pouty hottie in the Summer sequence.

And it's well directed, no doubt. The editing and choice of camera shots is exceptional, and the nonsensical story is satisfactorily told, without the pages of deadening dialogue that a western film would have provided. "So you noticed I'm gorgeous," the woman thinks but doesn't state. "What will you do about it, and will I let you?"