Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... and Spring

When people asked me about this movie, after I announced I was going to see it, I found it very difficult to give a straight answer as to why I was going, or what it was about. My more vague answer was that it was about this Buddhist monk and his disciple, and they go fishing, and it looks kind of cool. Alternatively, I'd say I saw this really interesting film in last year's festival, Travellers and Magicians, about a young fellow from a remote village in Bhutan, who gets so annoyed with the limitations of his life that he decides to go to America. That made the movie into a road movie, Bhutan style: he had to hitch to the nearest city and it takes him three days solid slog in which he manages to get about 20 miles, then he decides that what he really wants is to be with the chick he's met as he hitches, and she just happens to come from his village. I'd say that Spring, Summer... seemed to have the same mood. Truth is, I really had very little idea of what to expect.

I know now: this movie is enchanting. It does involve a young fellow and his master. There is very little dialogue. Most of the action involves just the two of them, and it mostly takes place in the Master's Pagoda style cottage on a floating barge about the size of a tennis court. Everything else happens on the lake shore. Hard to see how something interesting could come out of that, although there were a lot of long lingering shots of the spectacular location - a nature reserve in southern Korea.

As the title suggests, the film follows a cycle, not just through the seasons of the year but of a man's life. In the first segment, the pupil is a wee boy of maybe 6 or 7. By the fifth segment, the Master has died and the pupil is, in turn Master to a young boy. Still not sounding too hot as films go! But the interest, and yes the humour, in the film is in what happens in these segments. In the first, the pupil occupies himself by tying stones to, first, a fish then a frog and, finally, a snake. The master teaches him a lesson he'll never forget by tying a rock to the pupil while he sleeps and then instructing him to find and release his victims, warning him if one dies, he'll have the stone of regret around his heart until he dies.

So, with that kind of punishment for transgression, I was very curious to find out what would happen to our pupil, now in his teens, in the next segment when he transgresses once again. This time it is with the teenage girl who has been left with the Master to heal, possibly the first girl the pupil had ever seen. Certainly, his behaviour was less than civilized: finding her asleep on the floor, he does the good thing of covering her up but takes the chance of a bit of a grope as he does so, for which he gets a good slapping. No matter, they end up bonding, which leads to one of the most uncomfortable looking sex scenes I've ever seen - he's, um, very energetic and she's lying on bare rock. When she leaves, he follows despite his master's warning that lust leads to possession, and possession to murder. Not sure I get that, but it seems to be how things work, at least in this movie.

So, the third segment was pretty harrowing - and its probably more appropriate that it carries its American translation of the season - fall. The pupil kills his wife when he found that she had been unfaithful. He comes back to the Master who, after punishing him, wants him to reacquire some sort of inner piece. Apparently, this is achieved by having the pupil carve this huge (I take it) religious passage into the floor of the barge - this takes 24 hours of solid carving, morbidly enough with the knife he had killed his wife with. There's a nice sense of atonement and repentance here: two cops have turned up to arrest the pupil, but not only do they await his completion of his task but they paint where he carves. Then comes a pretty horrible scene, one I don't fully understand, in which the Master dies, and that's the end of the segment.

Winter is basically about the pupil coming back and starting the process of his own enlightenment and the cycle regenerating by a woman bringing her baby to this newly minted holy one. The lake is iced up, as is a waterfall, which was absolutely beautiful to see. So too was the Master's head the pupil carved out of clear ice. Then there's a very short segment of spring, in which we see the pupil turned master with his own pupil.


Blogger Jessie said...

I saw a preview of this, and the scenery looked absolutely incredible.

9:07 AM  
Blogger harvestbird said...

What's the relationship in this film between the pupil's buddhism and his actions? When he murders his wife, is there any condemnation of him as a "bad buddhist"?

I'm thinking that the only movie I've seen in which a Christian is shown as acting with a comparable mixture of helpful and harmful would be Robert Duvall in The Apostle, but this movie sounds completely differen.t

9:24 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

Cool - vistors! The scenery was fabulous, Jessie - a bit like what you'd find in the more remote bush clad bits of the top of the south island - say if you moved Lake Brunner up into the Karamea Bight.

As for being a "bad buddhist", I think that Buddhism has a protocol for taking bad behaviour in its stride. No doubt the pupil knew when he went back that his crime would be known by the master, and we'd already seen two seasons in which he was punished. But punishment is aimed at redemption - and the pupil was able to move on. I guess that's not a million miles from the way the Catholic church does things.

1:37 PM  

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