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This review is from: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... and Spring [DVD]  (DVD)
Sometimes less is more -- and sometimes less is everything. Kim Ki-Duk works magic with only a few props in the ethereal, exquisite "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring," a movie that transcends its own simplicity. Beautiful, well-acted and quietly poetic, this Korean film is a movie to remember.
Somewhere in a secluded spot, surrounded by tall mountains, is a beautiful little lake, and a small Buddhist monastery floats in the middle of it. Two monks live in it -- an elderly man (Oh Young-su), and a very young boy. The boy is full of the usual hijinks and mischief, but the old monk teaches him lessons that shape him as he grows to manhood.
The young boy (Kim Young-min) learns that his childish cruelty has terrible consequences, and that if he kills anything, he will carry that "stone" with him for the rest of his life. Then, as he reaches adolescence, a young girl (Ha Yeo-jin) enters their lives -- and his heart. Filled with lust and love, the boy leaves for the outside world. But the world -- and a murder -- drives him back to where he started, to find death or redemption...
"Spring" is steeped in Buddhist teachings, but in a sense those teachings are truly universal -- all the more obvious because Kim is not a Buddhist, but a Catholic. The love of life, dangers of desire, mistakes and the danger of repeating them, and the cycles of death and birth are at the core of "Spring," and it's impossible not to be touched by those ideas being woven into a simple, straightforward plot.
The seasons parallel that of the younger monk's life, taking him from childhood to old age. It's a simple idea, but a good one. Director Kim Ki-duk (who has a starring role) gives an almost unearthly feel to the beautiful landscape, the dramatic scene on the snowy mountains, and especially to the beautiful little two-person monastery in the middle of a lake. The sight of it is almost unreal.
Oh Young-su does an excellent job with the old monk, who has the wisdom the younger man sorely lacks. His past is a mystery; the problems his disciple encounters make you wonder what caused him to stay in seclusion. Kim himself plays the mature younger man, giving a startlingly nuanced performance as the character tries to atone for his sins, and takes the place where he is most needed.
With a single set and only a few actors, Kim Ki-Duk crafts a meditative masterpiece in "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... And Spring." Quiet, heartbreaking, beautiful and deceptively simple, this film is a must-see.