The South Korean film “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter …and Spring,” a prize-winning Korean film by writer-director Kim Ki-duk, premiers in the Finger Lakes at the Smith Opera House on August 26.
Kim's film is a poetic study of youth, age and the battle between spirituality and carnality–and it takes place entirely in a little forest retreat, a floating monastery in the middle of a Korean mountain lake called Jusan Pond. There we watch a lifelong rite of passage enacted by two monks.
Kim's timeless fable is backdropped by nature and eternity: the deep rolling forests and mountain peaks, the translucent lake and the high surrounding sky. We first meet the two main protagonists in springtime when one, the Old Monk (Oh Young-soo) is already an old man and the other is a mere Child (Kim Jung-ho). During the span of the title's five seasons, the Old Monk moves quietly toward death and the child passes through lusty boyhood (Seo Jae-kyung), to angry young manhood (Kim Young-min) and final to maturity (portrayed, as the Adult Monk, in the last two episodes by filmmaker Kim Ki-duk).
In spring, the Child Monk learns a hard lesson when the Old Monk catches him mistreating a frog, fish and snake. In summer, the Boy falls in love with a Girl (Ha Yeo-jin), who has been sent to the monastery to recover from sickness; after bouts of raging sexuality, he decides to leave with her. In fall, the Boy, now a Young Adult, returns, now an embittered fugitive from the law, and the story takes a strange, violent turn–resolved in the final episodes of winter and the returning spring.
The symbolic framework is Buddhist, but the feelings are universal and this film casts its own rhapsodic spell, thanks not only to the beautiful cinematography of natural settings by Baek Dong-hyun, but also to the equilibrium in which Kim keeps all the narrative elements. Though we see life through the eyes of two outsiders in their isolated world, we also see life whole — with all its violence, desire and savagery–and all its beauty, compassion and delight as well.
Kim is a major figure in the new Korean cinema, though he's been known heretofore as a bit of an angry young man. His previous films have plunged unsparingly into modern Korean life and its conflicts, crime and sex. Here, he seems to take a retreat–but only to explore the same themes and society from a different, higher angle. It's a wonderful film and it's heartening to watch the characters move toward that transcendent Buddhist acceptance we see in Yasujiro Ozu's Japanese classics. As in Ozu's films, they also move through that cycle that endlessly repeats — of beauty, tragedy, the seasons of life itself… and the returning spring.
The Smith Opera House screens “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter …and Spring” at 7 p.m. Aug. 26 and 27, at 2 p.m. Aug. 29 and at 7 p.m. Aug. 30 and 31. In Korean with English subtitles, this film has a running time of one hour, 43 minutes. It is rated R for some strong sexuality. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students and seniors. All seats on Thursday are $3 and all seats on Tuesday are $2. Call 315-781-5483 or toll-free 866-355-5483 for details or to order tickets.
The Smith Opera House is located at 82 Seneca Street in Geneva. The Smith is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, the City of Geneva, the Town of Geneva and by contributions from individual supporters.