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Film / Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring

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Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring is a 2003 South Korean film directed by Kim Ki-duk, about an old Buddhist monk who lives in a small floating temple on an isolated lake. He lives simply, maintaining the modest, yet ornate temple, keeping a few pets, and raising a small boy to be a monk like him.

The movie cycles through the seasons in the same order as the title. The seasons cover not one year, but several, each devoted to a different time in the boy's life: boyhood, teenage years, young adulthood, adulthood, and old age. With each division, the younger monk learns new life lessons, often the hard way, until he eventually finds peace in the simple life his master originally laid out for him.

As the plot is rather spoiler sensitive, it is recommended you watch the film before reading the examples.

This film provides examples of:

  • An Aesop: The Young Monk experiences one first hand during the first spring when, after the Old Monk sees him tie stones to a fish, a frog, and a snake and laugh as they struggle to move with them, he wakes up with a stone tied to his own back.
  • Animal Motifs: The importance of animal symbolism in Buddhism is reflected in the film's imagery.
    • Fish feature prominently in the Summer segment, and in Buddhism, they represent free will and spontaneity. At the end of the segment, the Young Monk breaks with his master's instruction to pursue the Girl after she recovers from her illness and is sent home. Fish also represent the ability to navigate suffering in search of enlightenment, which the Young Monk does after his ill-advised journey to the outside world ends with him serving prison time for murdering his adulterous wife.
    • Snakes are a constant presence in the Winter segment. The snake-like naga in Buddhism represents death and rebirth, and in this segment, the Young Monk returns after being paroled from prison and re-establishes himself in the Temple, even taking on a new apprentice when a young woman leaves her newborn son with him.
  • Book Ends: The first and second Spring sequences both feature an older monk teaching a young boy in the ways of Buddhism, while the young boy shows his cruel side by tormenting a fish, a frog, and a snake with stones (this part of the second Spring sequence was cut for the international release). The difference is that the older monk in the second Spring was the young boy in the first Spring.
  • Bowdlerize: The second Spring segment in the international release is shortened due to the depiction of animal cruelty. Though It Makes Sense in Context, it's quite sad to watch if you love animals.
  • Freak Out: Young Monk has one after The Girl is sent away.
  • Going Native: The Young Monk runs off to find The Girl after she returns to civilization.
  • He's Back!: Happens in Fall and Winter when the Young Monk returns after many years away from the Temple, initially after murdering his wife and fleeing the police, and later after serving time in prison.
  • Humans Are Bastards: When the Young Monk returns in the Fall segment after having killed his wife for sleeping with another man, the Old Monk reminds his apprentice that he warned him about the jealousies and cruelties of the "world of men", and especially that if one desires someone or something, it's certain that others will desire to take that person or thing for themselves.
  • Love at First Sight: The Young Monk has never seen a girl in his life. Suddenly one his age shows up at the Temple with her mother. Needless to say, he's infatuated.
  • Love Makes You Evil: The Old Monk warns the Young Monk that lust leads to a desire to possess, which leads to intent to murder. The Young Monk is too infatuated with the Girl to take this lesson on board and runs off after her. The Old Monk's warning proves prophetic when the Young Monk marries the Girl, only to murder her when he catches her in an affair with another man.
  • Master-Apprentice Chain: In the second spring we see that the Young Monk has become the Old, and is raising another young boy as his apprentice.
  • Minimalist Cast: There are only eight characters in the film: the Old Monk, the Young Monk, the Girl and her mother, the two police detectives, and the baby and his mother.
  • No Name Given: The only characters to address each other by name are the two detectives who arrive at the Temple in pursuit of the Young Monk during the Fall sequence, Choi and Ji. The two monks, the Girl and her mother from the Summer sequence, and the baby and his mother during the Winter sequence are not named (and the latter two don't even have any dialogue).
  • Scenery Porn: The Temple floats on a lake in a forest nestled in a valley, and we are treated throughout the film to lingering shots of the surrounding natural beauty, especially when, during the Winter segment, the Young Monk climbs to the top of a hill with a statue of Maitreya (the Buddha-to-come) and looks out over the valley, the Temple little more than a dot in the middle of a distant frozen lake.
  • Seasonal Baggage: Exactly as it says in the title. The different seasons correspond to the different stages of the Young Monk's life; we see him as a boy in Spring, a teenager in Summer, a young man in Autumn, and a middle-aged man in Winter. By the second Spring segment, he has a new boy apprentice.
  • Self-Immolation: At the end of the Fall segment, the Old Monk rides out onto the lake and sets fire to himself.
  • Silence Is Golden: The film features very little dialogue, relying more on the characters' actions and camera work to advance the story; the Winter and second Spring sequences feature no dialogue at all.