A Movie Review by Zinta Aistars
* Director: Ki-Duk Kim (II)
* Studio: Columbia Tristar Hom
* DVD Release Date: September 7, 2004
In an age of computer enhanced, if not entirely generated, special effects, high adventure, action upon action scenes, what an enjoyable respite it is to view this Korean film of aesthetic simplicity.
Korean director Kim Ki-Duk has created a film centered around the seasons of a man's life beautifully framed against the seasons of nature. An elder Buddhist monk raises a younger monk with a quiet and unobtrusive wisdom. The scene is set in a small floating monastery where the two live alone but for one animal companion, the choice of animal changing with each season, adding layers of intriguing symbolic meaning. Surrounding the floating monastery is a lake set among mountains.
Beginning in the spring of the boy's life, when he is a child learning about the world around him and within him, the wise older man watches the naive young boy engage in lessons proffered by nature. He lets the boy learn on his own, watching from a distance, and only steps in when it is time to do so. In perhaps the film's most profound statement, he watches as the boy, chuckling to himself, ties string around a fish he catches in the lake, and attaches it to a stone. The child takes joy in the struggling of the fish when he releases it back into the water, where the fish is unable to swim freely. The boy repeats this with a frog, with a snake, gleefully tormenting his fellow creatures. From the woods above the shore of the water, the elder monk watches. He is a silent observer, allowing the boy to engage in his mischief. It is only at night, when the boy sleeps, that the monk ties a rock to the boy's back, precisely as the boy did with the tiny creatures. When the boy wakes upon morning, he finds himself weighed down with the rock, and when he questions the elder man, is told that the rock will not be removed until the boy removes the stones he tied to the creatures the day before. Should he not have rescued the creatures in time, the stone will then be a weight the boy must carry in his heart ever after.
The boy seeks out the creatures he has tormented. He finds the little fish dead in the water, still tied to its stone. Teary eyed, he buries it. The frog, though exhausted from its added weight, survives. The snake, however, the boy finds bloodied and dead, attacked by other creatures while unable to escape, and the boy sobs with regret for what he has done.
This is but the first of many lessons the boy must learn as he grows into a man over the course of the seasons of his life and the life around him. There are lessons of love and lust as the manchild, and then the adult man, confuses the two; there are lessons of violence and retribution; lessons of penitence and forgiveness; lessons on dealing with one's own emotions and inner turbulence; lessons of honor and death and rebirth. There is a repetition of the stone tied to the man as he reaches a higher level of understanding, once the elder monk has died, and this time the man has tied the stone to himself as he presses to reach for a higher level of endurance, wisdom, and reverence.
While seemingly simple, this wonderful film is in actuality complex and rich with beauty and symbolism, cutting to the core of a man's nature and the nature of life. It can be watched many times over to enjoy fully its intricacies. It is subtitled, yet one can watch it, and perhaps even should--at least once--without the words, for there are few, and the images convey all that must be understood.
Perhaps the greatest skill in movie-making is not the amount of special effects incorporated in its making, as to what level of beauty and wisdom one can bring to the screen without anything other than a director's fine eye and profoundly simple yet wise insights.