Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring is the first Kim Ki-duk film to get a proper U.S. release after the transgressive director’s controversial Seom. The gorgeous setting is more or less the same, as is the tireless mode of transport, except this time there are more spiritual returns. Somewhere in a fog-layered Asian netherworld, a wise healer teaches a young boy the ways of the Buddha. After tying rocks to a triumvirate of forest creatures, the boy is forced to carry a stone on his back and feel their burden. Every season is a new stage in the young boy’s life: “Summer” is his clumsy sexual awakening; “Fall” chronicles the residual damage of his lust; and “Winter” evokes his spiritual enlightenment. Kim is a great lover of signs (two snakes tussle in the forest, foreshadowing the psychosexual struggle between the teenage boy and the girl who comes to be healed by his master), and though he lays on the symbolism thick, there’s no mistaking the purity of his intent. Spring, Summer unravels as a kind of Buddhist parable for children. Elementary, yes, but profoundly moving. By the time the second “Summer” rolls around, the film’s circle of life has closed in on itself one too many times, but Kim’s reverence for silence and movement inspires as much awe as his locale. One especially ravishing shot positions the monk’s house-on-the-lake as the word’s axis. Just as every action in the film has its own reaction, every image evokes the oneness of the film’s characters to their natural surroundings.
Kim Ki-duk’s films are so beautiful to look at that its nearly impossible for any DVD to do them justice. Compared to the film’s theatrically-projected image, I have to say that the quality of the image on this DVD is a little on the fuzzy side, but if colors feel a little faded, the presentation is nonetheless elegant and free of any edge enhancement or dirt. (Certainly it’s a better transfer than what First Run Features did to the director’s Seom.) The audio is lovely and unpretentious-dignified by how little it calls attention to itself.
Call it Buddha for Hippies, and as such the last movie in the world South Park’s Cartman would ever watch.