Running Time: 103 mins.
Rated: Rated M
For anyone following the growth of recent Korean cinema, the name of Kim Ki-Duk will mean tough stuff, worlds of sadism (The Isle) or sleazy underworlds of pimps, prostitutes and prisons (Bad Guy). This is a different kind of film altogether, although there are some plot details that remind us the urban jungle of Seoul and other cities is within reach of the peaceful countryside.
This is a Buddhist film, a film that can communicate some of the key Buddhist beliefs to non-Buddhists through images and story: meditation and prayer, harmony with nature, reincarnation, passion and detachment, repentance and retribution, redemption and peace.
The setting is an isolated lake surrounded by mountains. At the edge of the lake are painted doors which open for us at the beginning of each season. They reveal a floating hermitage where a wise Old Monk lives, instructing disciples or receiving visitors who want prayer and healing.
With each season and its beautiful environmental changes, the second character in the hermitage grows, develops and fails. In Spring, he is a young boy who has to learn not to be cruel to and destructive of nature.
In Summer, a teenager, he learns sexual arousal and love but has to learn what lust is and detachment. In Autumn, an adult of thirty, he has to repent of his violent mistakes. In Winter, in middle age, he has to return to his origins to learn wisdom and be redeemed.
If the audience surrenders to the lake, the mountains and the hermitage, there is a great deal of wise entertainment and glimpses of a spirituality that has sustained Asian cultures for centuries.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is the International President of SIGNIS: the World Association for Catholic Communications and an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.