Part Of The Picture: Full Circle

Posted on October 9, 2009


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OCT 10, 2009 – A FLOATING HERMITAGE IN THE MIDST of a tranquil river, surrounded by tranquil nature, is home to an old monk (Yeong-su Oh) and a little boy who, by the second season of the title, grows into an adolescent (Jae-kyeong Seo). A young girl (Yeo-jin Ha), whose ashen pallor suggests a serious sickness, is brought to the hermitage by her mother. After a while, the mother departs, and it’s just the trio – the old monk, and the two youngsters who, naturally, begin to surrender to the strange new sensations coursing through their bodies. The boy and the girl fall into a routine of taking a boat to the mainland and making love. Their little excursions, at first, are hidden from the old monk, but one morning, he catches sight of the young lovers on the boat, deep in post-coital slumber. The young monk is contrite. Kneeling before the old monk, he pleads, “I did wrong, Master. Forgive me.”

The old monk is practical. Eyes closed in meditation, he simply utters, “That happens by itself. It is just nature.” And yet, he knows this cannot go on. He opens his eyes and addresses the girl. “Are you still sick?” She replies, “No.” The old monk sighs. “Then it was the right medicine.” It’s clear that he isn’t just referring to the medicinal herbs from the mainland he so conscientiously ground into extracts for her recovery – he’s also alluding to the recent physical exertions that have clearly affected her body and soul. The boy looks up in silent despair, knowing fully well what’s about to come. The old monk tells the girl, “Now that you have recovered, you can leave this place.” The boy protests. “No Master, she can’t.”

The old monk says, “Lust awakens the desire to possess. And that awakens the intent to murder.” The next scene, he’s clutching at the oars of the boat, asking the girl to get in. She glances at the closed doors of the hermitage, possibly hoping for a last goodbye, but the doors do not open. She steps into the boat. The old monk begins to row towards the shore. Now, we step inside the closed doors, as the boy weeps in front of a statue of the Buddha. His hands are clasped in prayer, but his shoulders shake violently with the effort of staying calm. He decides he can take it no longer. He gets up, flings open the doors, runs towards the edge of the raft and gets a final glimpse at the girl, who looks back from the faraway boat.

That night, the boy cannot sleep. He tosses and turns beside his master, who appears to be peacefully at rest. He gets up. He lifts the Buddha from its pedestal and pushes the statue into a knapsack. He hoists it on his shoulders, bows to his master and leaves. The master opens his eyes. He’s been awake all the while, but there’s not a word of caution from him, not even a token request to his disciple to consider the consequences of his actions. Perhaps he knows that this parting was inevitable. (And maybe he’d have told himself what he told the boy and girl earlier. “That happens by itself. It is just nature.”) Or perhaps he knows that the boy is bound to return, that the merciless cycle of life will draw him back to starting point, to full circle, to where it all began.

Soon, a title card announces the onset of the next season – fall – and the old monk opens a newspaper wrapper containing food. As he consumes his meagre rations, a news item catches his eye. “Man, 30, flees after murdering wife.” He pulls the paper closer, as if to inspect the picture alongside. He sighs and looks up at the sky. He knows what he has to do now. He pulls out an old pair of robes and sets about darning the holes in them. He appears to be preparing for a visitor’s arrival. And sure enough, a young man (Young-min Kim) with a bag slung across his shoulder makes his way through the river banks. The old monk looks across the breadth of the water. He gets into the boat and begins to row to the shore, to pick up the visitor.

“You have grown a lot,” he remarks upon reaching the shore. The young man is silent. “Get in,” says the old monk. They reach the hermitage. The young man shows no signs of recognition. He walks sullenly to a corner and seats himself. The old monk enquires, “So have you led a happy life up till now?” He sits down. “Tell me something interesting about your life.” When his former pupil doesn’t answer, he continues, “The world of men has grown agonising for you, hasn’t it?” At this, the young man spits out, “Leave me alone, Master. Can you not see that I am suffering?” The old monk persists, “What causes you to suffer?” The young man reveals, “My only sin was to love. I wanted nothing except her.” The old monk asks, “So?” The young man is incredulous. “She went with another man.”

The old monk repeats, “So?” The young man splutters, “How can that be? She said she’d love only me.” The old monk asks, “Didn’t you know beforehand how the world of men is? Sometimes we have to let go of things we like. What you like, others will also like.” The young man isn’t in the mood for life lessons. A little later, however, he calms down. He unzips his bag and removes the statue of the Buddha he’d taken away with him. He replaces it on its pedestal. He reaches into the bag again. This time, he extracts a bloodied knife. He stabs the floor repeatedly. The old monk doesn’t react. That night, the young man stays wide awake, watching his master sleep like a child, like he did all those years ago as an adolescent. Nothing seems to have changed, including the master’s admonition from long ago. “Lust awakens the desire to possess. And that awakens the intent to murder.”

Bom Yeoreum Gaeul Gyeoul Geurigo Bom (2003, Korean; aka Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring). Directed by Ki-duk Kim. Starring Yeong-su Oh, Ki-duk Kim, Young-min Kim.

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Posted in: Cinema: Foreign