Bom yeoreum gaeul gyeoul geurigo bom / Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring (Kim Ki-duk, 2003)
Buddhism, from my (admittedly limited) understanding of it, is all about letting go of anything that attaches oneself to the material world. Power, lust, love, revenge: these are all hindrances to the elevation of the soul. This film essentially feels like an actualization of that philosophy. It is quite literal in some ways, with the sadistic game the young monk plays on the animals involving a literal tether restraining them and hindering them, while the floating temple, well, floats - a visual representation of the way in which Buddhism helps getting rid of earthly attachments. This film is ripe with symbolism, only a third of which I feel like I really understand: what are we to make of the doors that are constantly shown for example ? There's the one that leads people to the temple, which serves as a constant in a landscape that evolves significantly with the titular seasons (and the years in between) but also welcomes the viewer multiple times (three I think ?) within the film. But there are the doors within the temple as well, which seem pointless from a practical standpoint (since there are no walls) but the characters always use nonetheless except, quite relevantly, at one crucial moment. What about the fact that the main characters big transgressions are all commited in the same place (except for the one that's offscreen entirely) ? I get the feeling that there's a lot going on here that I would need to be much better versed into both Buddhism as a whole and Korean culture in particular to fully understand.
From a character standpoint, things are much simpler. We have a story of education, coming of age, transgression, punishment and eventually redemption... and it all starts again. Also a Buddhist idea, but one that Kim Ki-duk perhaps overplay a bit within the second Spring segment. I was interested to learn that he plays the older monk character himself, which is perhaps not very humble of him (as he is clearly the moral and spiritual center of the film, as much as a human being can be), but he's quite good, so who am I to argue. I can't say as much of the children acting in the film, but so it goes with child actors. The rest of the cast is fine, especially the two cops who come to have a grand Kitano-esque time in the Fall segment, which is perhaps a nod towards humanism I appreciated.
Aside from that, Kim's dedication towards the monachist view of life is probably the film's biggest limiting factor for me, but it is certainly an impressive accomplishment overall, and one that combines gorgeous visuals (I was both saddened and impressed to learn that the monastery was built for the film) with a simple but efficient script to express his view of life. It is didactic, but not in an overbearing way, and it's certainly a film I'd be interested in revisiting down the line and/or reading an erudite analysis of.8/10