I initially had low expectations of this 2003 film, directed by Kim Ki-Duk (who died of COVID-19 last year at the age of just 59). The film, though, is a visual treat, set around a Buddhist monastery floating on a lake in a beautiful forest.
The first part of the film (“spring”) centres on the day-to-day life of a monk and his young pupil, who occupy a kind of innocent idyll, until in adolescence (“summer”) the modern world intrudes, with discombobulating results. We follow the young apprentice’s life as it passes into the later seasons of life, with gaps of roughly 10 to 20 years. Kim Ki-Duk himself played the apprentice in the last stage of life.
I’m intrigued by Buddhist practice, and enjoyed this meditation on the passing of time, the eternity and circularity of the natural world, and the fallibility of human nature. The film was drenched in Buddhist symbolism and imagery, and I’m sure I missed an awful lot, as I’m not well-versed in that. It wasn’t exactly action-packed and the meditative pacing meant my mind wandered at times, as I was, tellingly, tempted by the alternative diversions of social media and my emails, but the movie was lovely to look at, and very moving at times.
The best bits were the cinematography, the beautiful location and the tai chi – which I have only previously seen done badly by pretentious Trustafarians on Clapham Common, but which was truly awe-inspiring when observed in someone who knows what they are doing and does it well.