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Three people live in a remote Buddhist monastery near Mount Chonan: Hyegok, the old master; Yong Nan, a young man who has left his extended family in the city to seek enlightenment - Hyegok calls him Kibong!; and, an orphan lad Haejin, whom Hyegok has brought to the monastery to raise as a monk. The story is mostly Yong Nan's, told in flashbacks: how he came to the monastery, his brief return to the city, his vacillation between the turbulence of the world and his hope to overcome passions and escape the idea of self. We also see Hyegok as a teacher, a protector, and a father figure, and we watch Haejin make his way as a curious and nearly self-sufficient child. Written by
The first time I rented this movie, I saw it with a friend. We quit halfway through after groaning with boredom, then spent the rest of the evening making fun of it. A year later I tried it again, and have seen it five times since. It is extraordinary and is more gripping and absorbing each time I watch it.
There is of course no plot, only a loose story which illustrates, both in its whole and many fragmentary parts, core questions and ideas of Buddhism regarding the impermanence of all things and the corrupting nature of human desire. I know only a little about Buddhism, but what little I had read since the first unsuccessful viewing was probably what helped me see it subsequent times. Like Buddhism, it employs profound calm to upset some fundamental attitudes about the world and makes these disturbances fascinating: suffering, loss, the desire to hold on to things, and the vanity of intellectual growth.
This is however not by any stretch an "ideas" movie. It was made by a painter and remains very much a kind of tone-poem for the screen. I recommend it highly.
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