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Creating a Masterwork,
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This review is from: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... and Spring [DVD]  (DVD)
In a floating pavilion in the middle of an isolated lake in modern day Korea lives an old Buddhist monk (Oh Yeong-su) and his young student. In the spring sequence, the novice torments a fish, a frog and a snake by weighing them down with stones. The master responds by tying a large stone to the novice, and instructing him to find the animals and release them, or else "he will carry a stone in his heart for the rest of his life". The novice frees the frog, but the fish and snake have died. In the summer sequence, over 10 years later, a mother and a sick girl (Ha Yeo-jin) come to the pavilion. The novice, now a young man (Kim Young-min), is tormented by lust until finally the girl responds. Afterwards she leaves, followed by the novice. In the autumn sequence, again set about 10 years later, the ex-novice returns to the lake closely followed by two detectives. He has apparently murdered his wife, but before he is arrested, in a scene involving a cat and Buddhist sutras, the master sets the ex-novice on a path of peace and self realisation. In the winter sequence, the ex-novice returns to the frozen lake. He is visited by a mysterious woman with a baby and when she is killed on the lake, the baby remains. In a beautifully shot and scored sequence, the monk pays a final penance for his crimes, carrying an image of the Buddha and pulling a millstone to the top of an adjoining ridge. This recollection of the stone image from the first sequence of the film seeming completes, in winter, the cycle began in spring. But in a final sequence, it is again spring and the ex-novice has now become the master and has the child as a novice, so the cycle continues.
The DVD includes a Korean DTS track, plus Dolby Digital Korean 5.1 & 2.0. This is a film of little dialogue, and no action, the surrounds supporting the score and occasional sounds, such as wind or rain. The music supports the moods of the film beautifully - it is especially slow and haunting in the summer and winter sections, using a combination of choral, orchestral and Asian percussion and wind instruments. In the winter section, which runs for over 19 minutes, there is absolutely no dialogue. The music builds the mood throughout the sequence and finally supports the penance of the monk with a melody evoking longing and loss.
Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter . . . and Spring is presented in an enhanced widescreen print in a ratio of 1.85:1. This is a very clear and clean print and the colours are spectacular yet totally natural. Remember the lake in "Hero" which was so incredibly blue as to appear surreal (which was the point of course). In Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter . . . and Spring the surreal quality is not created by artificial colour enhancement but by the natural beauty and natural colours of the setting. In this film the lake is not blue but natural shades of green, which reflect the surrounding forests and hills. In winter, when the lake freezes over, it is not a pristine white, but shades of gunmetal grey. The trees through the seasons are also natural - greens in summer, yellows and reds in autumn. These trees which surround the lake are characters in their own right and are often shot in the foreground, framing the pavilion or activity on the lake.
Extra features are variable. The Behind the Scenes is 17 minutes of raw footage with music, but no interviews. The Director Interview is 3 minutes of Kim Ki-duk answering questions on set; it has very poor sound but is subtitled; the Premier Footage (9 minutes) is the premier press conference. There is also a trailer and a synopsis that consists of scrolling text (in Korean with subtitles) that lasts just under 1 minute.
Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter . . . and Spring is a hauntingly beautiful, spiritually intelligent and very satisfying film. As writer as well as director, not to mention the actor who plays the novice as adult, Kim Ki-duk brings an economy and clear vision to the film. Although Kim Ki-duk is better known for showing the violent and cruel side of Korean life, as in films like Seom, Bad Guy and Samaria, in Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter . . . and Spring he has crafted a film that is thoughtful, quiet, never dull and stunning to look at. A masterpiece.