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South Korean director Ki-duk Kim is skilled in expressing such themes as violence, brutality and erotic in his film. And the film Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring continues his Kim's style with image of beauty and extremity of narrative. However, it is his only tragic ending film which has a more relief basic tone than other works. According to seasonal cycle, this film can be divided into five sections and each section is an individual season which represents a stage of human's life. However, the five parts are not separated with each other. As long as seen them as a whole, we can read out the essence of this movie. Although this film has a simple plot and less dialogue, its value lays in its enlightening value. Actually, as the creature by God, a man's whole life is similar to four seasons. For every season has its own features just like a man in his different life periods may encounter many unexpected things and lose or gain something without known by himself.
The Birth of Spring
Spring is the head of the year and it symbols the beginning of both good and evil. The story has a pure and clean start: a small temple, surrounded by mountains and rivers, being far form the earth. Here lives a little monk, who has no background and no families except a simple life and a worship to the Buddha. But, even in such a pure and simple soul the evil can still find his place to live. For the innocent little monk tortures animals with stone and sees them suffocating to death. Ironically, his killing comes from his childlike innocence. No one has ever taught him to do so, he does this just fun. Thus, the beginning is a metaphor which suggests an Indisputable fact that human nature are born to be evil. Although the old monk punishes the child monk, according to Buddhist logic, the little monk is determined to bear the consequences of his killing. In this part, our director is cruel but sharp, he expose genuinely the human nature in a pure soul, meanwhile he is watching the child monk's growth in an indifferently stance.
The Forbidden Fruit of Summer
Summer is the season of indulgence desire, and the little monk grows into his adulthood. In this age, he has to struggle between Buddhist faith and sexual impulse. Finally, little monk tastes the forbidden fruit with a girl and again breaks the Buddhist rules. The scene gives us a hint that human's emotion or instinct cannot be suppressed. Facing this, the old monk gives little monk an opportunity to chose his life. In some degree, it makes me think of Eve and Adam. They are expelled from the Garden of Eden for knowing what it is desire. Here, director tells us a truth by old monk that "Lust arouses the possessive desire which may entail murder. " In this part, chicken is an important image, for chicken is a very vigilant animal, so here the chicken symbols one's vigilance. The scene impresses me most is that when the monk decides to leave the temple he takes alone him with a statue of Buddha and a chicken but he frees the chicken after he is out of the temple's door. Originally, the monk wants use statue to control his thoughts but the freedom of the chicken presents the lost of vigilance. Another important image here I think is the "door". Here, the material door actually symbols the "spirit door". If we lock the door, we keep the temptation form outside world; if we open it, the devil may slip into our heart. In the film, the monk fails to keep his "door" shut and finally steps out off the door of temple which symbols the clean land of one's spirit. More, this part of the movie can be seen as a transition al part and it foreshadows the following development.
The Murder of the Fall
Autumn impresses us with a sense of depression and when a man in his life stage of autumn he may encounter many crisis. In the movie, ten years have gone by and little monk has entered into his middle age. Ten years early, he contaminated by the worldly temptation and was entailed by many worries and disputes. In this part, he can not tolerate his wife cheating on him and eventually his rage leads to murder. I see this kind of love expression as the director's routine: Kim is always use such original release as desire and violence to accuse love. Facing lover's betray, man's heart is full of revenge and Jealousy; facing this crazy world, man can only adopt a crazier attitude. This 'contaminate' monk tries to avoid the reality by dead, and those endless maltreatment like a plague originates from Kim's other films. It is interesting that the director likes to use animal to show us some lessons. In this section, the image of cat can not be ignored. In the temple, why the old monk does not use writing brush to write but with cat's tail? In my view, I see cat as an intelligent animal, good at observing. And cat's tail is especially sensitive to outside world. Here, the old monk catches cat's tail means that he can control his thoughts and heart. While, the little monk fails to do this as his master, so he is controlled by his thoughts and instincts.
The Reflection of Winter
Winter may symbol the end of a year but when the winters come, the spring is near the corner. Just like a ring, when 'little monk' finished his sentence, he chooses to return to temple with a better attitude. While, the little monk has changed into an old monk with no private desire and follows his master's way. When another spring comes, he begins his new life with a kid left by a women. However, when the new young monk puts the stone into fish, frog and the snake like the monk when he was young, it reminds us that the circle of life continues its natural step.
This is a story about a monk's life, our director quietly and vividly narrates the pass of time. It tells us a fact: life is reincarnation from birth, old, pain, hopelessness, to death and rebirth. Life will change because of the environment and experience we have but we all end in the same way. Furthermore, life comes with many lessons for us learn no matter good or bad. We grow from the lose and mistake and through the crash of difficulties we become more and more stronger. Actually, makings mistakes or meeting temptation are inevitable, no man can be mature without frustration.
I can not help appreciating Kim's skill in expressing the theme of this movie, he extracts the common sense between man and nature, and implicitly suggests that man's instinct is similar to animals' under some occasions. Besides, I believe that one of the key word of this movie is circulation. This can be easily found from the name of the movie which begins with 'spring' and ends with 'spring'. Moreover, at the end of the movie, the abandoned baby gives us a hint that the 'little monk' is originally an abandoned baby, too. Thus, the mystery of little monk's birth is unlocked. And this is a circle of destiny. Furthermore, the little monk eventually takes over the old monk's position and adopts the new young monk as disciple, which is the circulation of responsibility. If we look back and think over the old monk's teaching and foreseen to the little monk's life, we may guess that may be the old monk had the similar experiences as his pupil. Thus, in some degree, this film tells us three monk's life or three monk's life fragments together consists a whole life span, which has not only a metaphor on the joint of souls but also illustrate the similarities of human life. In addition, another considerable key word of this movie is harmony. In spring section, little monk mistreats animals and is punishes by his master, which implies that men's relationship with animal should be friendly. In summer section, little monk is tortured by his abstinence. Actually, sexual desire is a normal thing of human being. If we depress it overmuch, it may bring the opposite effect. So, in this part, I see man's harmony with his physiological need. The fall section depicts a classic situation of middle-aged emotional crisis: lover's betray and the sense of lose. From this broken relationship, I see the necessity of keeping balance in husband and wife as well as in oneself and others. The last two parts can be seen as a whole, with the pass of the life, one can eventually learn how to forgive and keep minds empty and neutral. From this, I see one's harmonious relation with his own heart. Above all, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring is a big metaphor for human's life. Well, who would not admit that life itself is big metaphor? Although the film itself is full of some peace and beautiful scene, it evokes the ripple of my heart and makes me think deep into some philosophical theme.