Home | Reviews | Exclusive Writings | Great Links | Miscellaneous | FAQ | Contact Us

Spring Summer Fall Winter...and Spring /

Rated: R

Starring: Oh Yeong-su, Yeong-su Oh, Young-min Kim, Jae-Kyung Seo, Jong Ho Kim

Directed by: Ki-Duk Kim

Produced by: Ki-Duk Kim , Karl Baumgartner, Seung-jae Lee
Written by: Ki-Duk Kim
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics


Movie Image

Movie Image
Movie Image

WARNING: Spoilers ahead.

     I have a feeling, just a feeling, that mainstream moviegoers would immensely enjoy Spring Summer Fall Winter…and Spring if they were to actually sit down and watch it. That statement applies to all other art-house films released these days, as well. The main reason that the general population provides as to why they do not take interest in independent and foreign cinema is because the majority of the movies in such a group are slow and lingering works. While in most cases this is true, it is a false assumption that the word slow is a synonym for boring and lingering one for plodding. The director of Spring Summer Fall Winter…and Spring, Ki-Duk Kim does take his time in allowing his movie to play out, but the natural beauty of it is so enriching, I have a hard time believing the experience would fail to sweep any viewer away. Kim, himself, said, in an interview with IndieWIRE online-magazine, that he doesn’t “think it's really important how many people watch Spring Summer Fall Winter…and Spring but rather, WHO watches it.” If every average moviegoer was to see it, however, I would guess that they would all be the considered “who’s who” of the foreign-film-viewing circuit, in his book. This is a subtle and symbolic film, but at the same time, one-hundred times more enthralling than any old, formulaic box-office smash.

     In Spring Summer Fall Winter…and Spring, Kim uses the seasons as metaphors for different periods of ones lifetime. There are very few characters in the movie; it centers around just two people, an older monk (Yeong-su Oh) and his young apprentice (played by four different actors, one for each part of their character’s life). The two live in, literally, the middle of nowhere. Their small, minimalist living space is in the middle of a gorgeous lake inside a valley. They make their way around their secluded Korean home’s acreage in a wooden canoe. It is a spiritual setting; just the presence of the scenery is enlightening to the senses.

     In first chapter of the film, spring, the apprentice (Jae-kyeong Seo), is only about nine-years-old. He finds pleasure in tying small rocks around the backs of a fish, a frog, and a snake, disabling them from their ability to move well. After the old monk observes, he ties a large stone to the back of his learner, not removing it from him until he finds the three animals, and sets them free. He also warns him that if any are dead, it will leave him with a life-long emotional scar. This is exactly the outcome of the events, and the older monk’s word turns out to be quite truthful later on in the boy’s life.

     The second chapter is summer, which chronicles a season of the apprentice’s life in his teenage years, approximately ten years later. He is now played by Young-min Kim, in the most powerful of the portrayals of the character. He now finds romance in a girl (Yeo-jin Ha), who comes to visit he and his mentor, to be cured of sickness. However, the entire affair goes much too far when they begin to have sex, and the old monk discovers that they’re in a relationship. He sends the girl away as soon as she’s healthy, but the young monk decides to leave, too. Despite his lifelong house-mate’s warning him that that lust leads to possession, and possession leads to murder, he lives in the city to find her and marriage ensues.

     In fall, the master turns out to be right, and the young monk (Kim Young-min) is now a wanted fugitive; he has murdered his wife. Now thirty, he returns to his old home to hide. The once-apprentice is undergoing extreme emotional pain, and attempts to kill himself. However, he is stopped by the old monk before he can do so, and is then found by two detectives, hauled away to jail. Shockingly, at the end of this chapter, his elder successfully commits suicide, during a crazed burst of poignancy.

     Winter brings redemption, as the now forty-something man returns to the home for the final time. This sequence is comprised of a moving set of scenes, all queued to a musical score that couldn’t have been any more perfect. More importantly, it wonderfully leads the audience’s souls into a second spring, in which the cycle of life repeats itself, and the apprentice has now become the same old monk who cared for him during his childhood. This represents a multi-layered, albeit traditional, conclusion, which surpasses satisfactory quality.

     Karma, reincarnation, simple-living, and fate are all central themes of the simply moving story. These are not, however, presented in a strictly Buddhist fashion. Kim finds a way to present them in a universal manner, forming a common ground with all his viewers and building great lessons upon it. The events in the first spring still come to haunt us in the second one, even though, along with the main character, we’ve come to accept them as a part of life. This is a stunningly realistic depiction of how people, not just monks, come to cope with situations. The entire ordeal may seem silly on paper, but it manages to come across as an epic struggle when experiencing the apprentice’s growth and achievements in his life. There’s a surreal beauty in Spring Summer Fall Winter…and Spring that is to be found in a place, far beyond the gorgeous camera work and isolated setting. It’s a pure and wholesome one, crafted to be witnessed.

     Despite the rather small amount of events that take place in the movie, there is an epic feel to the material. When the credits begin to roll, viewers will feel as though the characters have overcame something. Whatever it may be—grief, sorrow, anguish, fate, belief, bearing—there’s no denying that ones reaction will be very thoughtful. All the elements of a great picture are here, and this is precisely why I think that any person, living on earth, would be able to identify and respect the achievements of Summer Spring Fall Winter…and Spring. I don’t expect there’ll be any revelation, in which people will realize that passing movies like this one by is a mistake, to happen soon. What I can guarantee, though, is that this is one of the best motion pictures of the year, and should not be missed by anyone, even if brainless Hollywood fare, like the recent Troy, is still pulling in the best box-office figures.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (5.17.2004)

Back to Home
The Bucket Review's Rating Scale