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[HanCinema's Hall of Fame Review] Closing the Circle in "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... And Spring"


In the Spotlight this Week: "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... And Spring" (2003) by Kim Ki-duk

Kim Ki-duk's disturbing domestic thriller "Moebius" is, for better or worse, nearly upon us. While three of Korea's top directors have been busy presenting their first 'international' films this year, Kim has shifted away from the globe's greedy searchlight. Instead, the dark alchemist has chosen to creep deep into Korea's domestic space with a knife in hand, grinning as he slips the blade under the covers to bloody our wet dreams forever. The film's nightmarish body horror could not be further in function than the calm and reflective efforts found in Kim's 2003 masterpiece: "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... And Spring" - a spellbinding and contemplative film that is arguably Kim's most enduring creation.

Folk wisdom reminds young women that they should know a man through all four seasons before committing. In "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... And Spring" Kim tells us the story of a young Buddhist monk and his master who live on a small floating monastery deep within an isolated valley, surrounded only by nature and its nurturing. Kim takes us through five chapters in this young monk's life, showcasing his spiritual and worldly challenges through each season. But even four seasons spaced across time is not enough for knowing, so Kim tells us, and the film, as Stephen King would perhaps put it, 'closes the circle' by ultimately returning us to a new genesis with "...And Spring". As Kim opens and closes the door on each new chapter, so the sympathetic light that is cast over the monk shifts and refocuses. Like the changing of the leaves, or water freezing, each segment paints a detailed new perspective on the monk's life and his personal journey towards individuation and spiritual salvation.

Buddhist themes and spiritual signifiers are woven into the film not only through the characters themselves and the world they occupy, but also through the story's cyclic narrative structure, spiritual motifs, and visual metaphors. Animals, for example, are give special place in the film, their importance ranging from simple living creatures worthy of respect and life, to suggestions that they are reincarnations or spiritual guides of another. Doorways and entrances are another motif Kim returns to in the film, as with each new season the monastery's wall-less doors swing open to present the change of time. The entrance to the floating monastery is also continual used as organic scaffolding to Kim's compositions, a troubling natural confinement that floats alongside Kim's thoughts on human nature and our impulse to want to rock the boat over still waters. 

"Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... And Spring", like many of Kim's films, contains precious little dialogue. Expect no pompous pronouncements or expositional soliloquies here; instead be prepared to let you eyes do all the listening while your mind pieces the beautiful big picture together. However despite the film's contemplative lack of words, there is one piece of dialogue early on in the film that stands out. After our young monk is found by his master to have tortured small animals, he is sent to undo the damage he has caused. In one scene he stands with the stone the master tied to his back, about endure his punishment/redemption, and listens as the old man's wisdom washes over him: "…you will carry the stone in heart for the rest of your life". It is a particularly potent line that is pregnant with clues to the fate of our tortured hero. But the idea also warmly encapsulates Kim's thoughts and reflections here on life and the inconsolable human condition that afflicts us all.

- C.J. Wheeler (@KoreaOnTheCouch)

[Images courtesy of]


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