Monday, May 7, 2007



Lake Superior

Kim Ki-duk, director of "The Isle," scores another triumph in the same kind of remote lake setting in which mythical stories can be told, in the captivatingly beautiful, deeply touching "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring."


Here's what Kim Ki-duk's latest film doesn't have: defecatory closeups, icepicks in the tuckus, inappropriate use of fishhooks, audience members puking, or critics passing out in the theater lobby. "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring" is not the gruesomely captivating "The Isle" by a longshot — you could take a mature kid to it, if your kid reads subtitles — but there's no mistaking it as one of Kim's spectacularly beautiful, immensely moving, magically macabre creations.

Written and directed by: Kim Ki-duk.
Cast: Oh Yeong-su, Kim Jong-ho, Seo Jae-kyeong, Kim Young-min, Ha Yeo-jin, Ji Dae-han, Kim Jung-young, Kim Ki-duk, Park Ji-a.
Cinematography: Dong-hyeon Baek.
Edited by: Kim Ki-duk.
In Korean with English subtitles.

With more images than words, "Spring, Summer" is like the world's most beautiful National Geographic photo montage, except on film. In the middle of a remote mountain lake is a lonely Buddhist shrine, a serenely floating cabin of centuries-old wooden beams adorned with Chinese characters. A slender, white-haired old master worships there with the help of his child protégé.

Although we eventually discover that the story is set roughly within our lifetimes, the first chapter, titled "Spring," could have taken place in any era. The little boy, just big enough to run around by himself and look for trouble, is growing up in a state of nature, with only the old man's gentle guidance to hold him back. He may know little about the greater world, but tramping through the wilderness and performing the day's religious rituals are two things that come to him naturally. What we see is only the smallest of stories, but it's full of feeling, wisdom and beauty. After a day in which the boy has splashed around the lake making trouble — gleefully tying rocks to the backs of a fish, a frog and a snake to watch how they struggle. The old man is a subtle teacher, however, and rather than punish the youngster, he teaches him a deeper lesson. "If any of those creatures are dead, you will carry a stone in your heart for the rest of your life," he admonishes.

The following chapters, one for each season of the year, also trace the seasons of this young fellow's life. We see him as a handsome, strapping, if naive teenager in the "Summer" chapter, doting on a sick girl who is brought to the shrine to heal her spirit. Salvation and seduction get intertwined, and soon the young fellow needs another of the old man's roundabout lessons. We see him three more times, always older, wiser, and yet still thickly enmeshed in spiritual crisis. Each chapter has its own spirit, surprises and resolution — in each, a kind of spiritual peace is achieved by the end, and it's a peace that spreads over the theater, not just on the screen.

In the end the film is not only a celluloid coffee-table book. When we gaze at the elegance of the calligraphed characters carved into the ancient beams, when we listen to sounds of the rippling lake, when we enjoy the lush density of the forest and the playfulness of the creatures who live in and around the water, each sensation embodies a whole cacophony of conflicting memories. Although the stories here are simple, they give us a rich sense of the generations of souls that infuse this place, and every one of the lush visions before our eyes is a reminder of the continuity and variety of life.

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