Aje aje bara aje (1989) Poster

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I'm Kwon-Taek's Buddhist Film
liehtzu13 September 2006
This is that OTHER movie made about Buddhist monastic life in Korea in 1989. I'm Kwon-taek's film is far more conventional and has neither the depth or the strange, quiet poetry of One Shot Wonder Bae Yong-kyun's "Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left For the East?" The main character of "Come, Come, Come Upward" (Kang Soo-yeong, who won best actress at the Venice Film Festival for I'm's "The Surrogate Woman") is expelled from high school after wrongly being accused of having an affair with her teacher and decides to join a nunnery. The head nun has doubts about Kang's sincerity and devotion to the Way and casts her back into the real world after a crazed man becomes obsessed with her and starts to cause ripples in the serenity of temple life. The film eventually breaks off into two trajectories, one following another young, surer nun of serene countenance as she, too, is forced by the head nun as a test of devotion to face the evils and temptations of the outside world. One woman is destined to return to the monastery, and the other to forever live outside. Elegantly shot, as all I'm's films are, but underdeveloped on the narrative level, as many of I'm's films are, "Come Upward" never achieves the sublime heights of its similarly-themed counterpart in the same year. "Bodhi-Dharma" tried to convey the experience of Buddhist temple life through images, parable, and mystery; "Come Upward" is more literal, and plainer.
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What does it mean to be pure?
marymele28 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
At first, I thought this was an anti-Buddhist movie. In the end,the nuns both lie to and disobey their dying abbotess and the one who takes the bones is the true inheritor of the – light. (Inheritor of something, not sure what.) But now, a few hours later, I think it was only incidentally anti-Buddhist, and that it was primarily concerned with purity and what constitutes purity. The nuns were just a symbol for a concern for purity and in the end they succumbed to both jealousy (the abbotess was waiting for the one who took the bones – all the names have escaped me- and not the nun who just finished 3 years in a cave) and pride (evidence: their lack of obedience to their superior.)

The beard koan was meant to carry a lot of weight; I missed it. What was that about?

I disliked (but it was a sign of the times) how the woman was consistently defined vis-à-vis a man – her father, her high school teacher, her husband(s). But, to be fair, the story was developed just as much by her relationship to the abbotess and her sister nuns.

Compassion, as announced in the beginning, is the overriding virtue. And it is, but I don't see that a reason to disparage spiritual quests. It's an old Catholic argument, too – the active vs. the contemplative life, except that it's a straw man of an argument. The real struggle is the lies we tell ourselves as a society to allow greed to flourish. I figure both monasteries and hospitals are needed to crack that lie.

I give it 7 stars, though, for the utter beauty which the camera captured and the perfect time capsule of a period of Korean life.
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