Steve G 🇵🇸’s review published on Letterboxd:
The last time I was ill, I watched Castaway On The Moon.
So, rejecting cough medicine, throat medication and various other 'remedies', I decided once again to go the contemplative Korean drama route to feeling a little better with my second Ki-duk Kim film after the wonderful 3-Iron.
It's been interesting to read some of the opinions on Kim's work when reading some material about Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring and in particular those that suggest that his was a surprising film for Kim to make at the stage of his career that he did. Many saw it as a rejection of the brutality and controversial depictions of all living beings - but it isn't really, is it?
The packaging is certainly deceptive. After all, if you set a film high up in the tree-lined Korean mountains in a man-made lake whose only feature is a floating temple and you portray the film through each of the four seasons, I think it's fair to say that it is going to be visually appealing. Not that Kim doesn't do some hard work with those seasons in making them reflect the different moods of his film. They are far from just backdrops. On a couple of occasions they play vital parts in the film's story.
There are also other aesthetic wonders outside of the obvious ice structures and yellowing leaves. This is a film that shows perhaps more than any other film or piece of media I've ever seen the beauty of the art of the written Hanja language. Watching it written, painted and carved out in this film was one of the many delights I derived from it. I think I could have watched a good two hours of that on its own, it was absolutely delightful. I have a much larger appreciation of the fact that it requires artistic abilities of a high standing to be able to write these dialects to this standard. Just wonderful.
So yes, the packaging is very much deceptive. But once you get to the end of this film, you realise that this is certainly not a complete departure for Kim. There IS brutality here and a very stark depiction of the darkness of the human soul as well as a 'circle of life' narrative that can be depressing or life-affirming depending on how you choose to interpret it. I can see this being very much a mood piece in that regard.
There is perhaps little that is surprising once an outside interloper in the form of an ill young woman makes an appearance in her section of the film and the 'Fall' that immediately follows. Perhaps the ever-so-slight hints of supernatural elements are ones that I felt the film would have been wise to have skirted around on the rare occasions it reverts to these are the most surprising element of the film.
However, this is a film that is far likely to delight than it is to surprise as it doesn't really try to achieve the latter as it is. I found Kim's use of living creatures that were not human to be extremely difficult to watch and disturbing, meaning that this is a very large possibility I will never watch Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring again. I am very glad that I saw it at least once, however, as this is a film of beauty and maturity that has made me feel quite a lot better. Beat that, Lemsip.