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"Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring"

Directed by Ki-duk Kim.
Written by Ki-duk Kim.
Starring Ki-duk Kim, Young-soo Oh, Yeo-jin Ha and Jong-ho Kim.
Release Year:  2003 
Review Date:  6/8/04


Besides the ridiculously long title, “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring” is maybe my favorite film of 2004.  That’s because in a year where nearly every film I have seen is laden with expensive, explosive, and egregiously-placed special effects, this quiet Korean import is more beautiful than all of them because of the simplicity of the filmmaking.  And, the film’s balance of a serene lake setting going through the seasons with occasionally-intense performances by the film’s small cadre of actors makes for a special time at the movies.

Love is a strong word, but I came away from this flick feeling like I am back in love with the movies, since this year has been tough over the first six months in terms of how average-to-bad so many movies from the Hollywood system have been.  In director Ki-Duk Kim’s masterpiece, we follow a young boy and his master over a span of 40 years, starting out when the boy is 10 years old in springtime and we watch him learning life lessons from the old man (Young-soo Oh).  Over the course of the seasons, the boy grows to become a servant to his master, and while in his 20s the boy falls in love with a sick woman (Yeo-jin Ha) that the old man helps back to perfect health.  There’s more that takes place in the other seasons, but it’s best to see the film to see what happens as the boy goes through life’s adventures.

The boy, played by four different actors as he ages gracefully, the last of which is the director himself, and his transformation are just so cool to watch…I’m also glad that Kim chose to have different actors play him each time, to bolster the visual changes that a person could go through over 40 years.  I feel like the normal case in American films is to have one person play the person when they are “young” and one actor to play the person when they are an “adult”, complete with aging makeup as they get older to make things look more and more silly.  Just hire another actor, for chrissakes!  I can’t decide which version of the boy I liked the best, but the best performance may have been the 10-year-old boy, Jong-ho Kim.  He just felt so natural on screen, and the lessons he learns from tying stones to small frogs, fish and snakes are tied in quite nicely later in the picture.

The beautiful cinematography is the other major highlight of “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring.”  Lush, that’s maybe the best word to sum it up.  There’s not much in the way of dialogue or a score in this movie, but the lake, the lake house, the surrounding greenery, the changing leaves, the frozen lake in wintertime, and the constant visuals of the Buddha…man, I was soaking it up.  I kept waiting to see some long, extended CGI sequence featuring a flying dragon, or a spaceship trying to blow up the Death Star, or a boss fight completed rendered by a damned computer…and thankfully, it never came.  All I had to work with were actors without blue screens, 30-second master shots of characters walking from one end of the shot to the other, and long sequences without songs by pop artists like Smash Mouth.  And I freakin’ loved it.

The little things are great in this film, too; jeez, just the fact that characters constantly used, open, and shut doors in “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring” is a cool thing to watch.  In the old man’s home, there are two doorways within the house, but the doors are not attached to any walls…meaning that characters could very easily just walk around the doors to go outside, but instead, they always use the doorway.  You have to see this to know what I mean, but it is a quiet beauty in a quietly beautiful film.  See this one at your local indie theater today!

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09