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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
A strange thing happened to me while watching this movie for the first time: About halfway thru, I lost the desire to pay attention to it. It's not that I lost interest, just that I lost the feeling of need or obligation to pay attention in order to get the most out of it.
Cinematic enlightenment? Or just fatigue?
Hmmm... probably a little of both, combined with the knowledge that it I can always watch it again.
This really is a different movie, and I can see it being played on my VCR time and time again, at times when I want to "watch something", but don't...
There's just so much to it, so much to think about, so much to see, that one time thru will only give a little sip. And I'm afraid that there are times when it does help to read the subtitles -- although much of the time there are no subtitles.
The thing about it is, rather than "teach" Buddhist philosophy, it "gives the experience". It follows its three characters on the path, and gives lessons on letting go.
There is a scene where a young boy returns to the grave of a bird he'd buried a few days before: Unable to let go of the bird, unable to accept death, he finds that yes, life goes on, but in ways that he was not ready to accept or understand! In an instant, he's startled by the cry of another bird, and falls from a ledge into a pool of water (there's a lot of water in this movie), where he thrashes about like he's drowning -- and then he stops trying to swim, and simply allows himself to float. Get it?
Lots of eye candy, lots of mind candy. If you're a Buddhist, or in any way interested in Buddhism, you must not miss it for anything! If however you're not interested in the least about Buddhist philosophy, but ARE interested in cinematic excellence, see it. It's a masterpiece!
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