One of the best and most artistic films coming out of Korea, director Im Kwon-taek’s film really brought him to world attention, with its story of two Buddhist monks and their existential crises.
The two monks concerned are very different from each other, and meet only by accident when a bus they are travelling on is stopped by security and one of them is detained. The other gets off the bus to come to his aid.
The first monk, Ji-san, has no official monk’s papers, and it turns out he has been expelled from the Sangha for having sex with a woman he met at his temple. The second (Beob-wun) is a serious young monk, with a lot of practice but less insight.
The two travel together for some time, and Beob-wun becomes disillusioned with Ji-san and his disregard for rules, drinking and whoring as he goes, and justifying it by stating that he is meeting the defilements head on in his practice.
After a while they part ways and the younger monk continues his quest, but unsuccessfully, and he starts to think again about Ji-san, and whether he has found a way that by-passes the forms of Buddhism that are safely practised in the country.
When they meet up they once more start to travel together, and the young monk also falls prey to prostitutes while accompanying his friend to see his old girlfriend, who is now working the streets of Seoul.
The film is beautifully shot, and the bleak backgrounds and harsh weather, somehow illustrate and support the dialogues that take place between the two as they soul-search their way through the Buddhist teachings.
Eventually Ji-san dies in the snow one night, and after the cremation, Beob-wun, meets with a couple of people from Ji-san’s life, before continuing once more on his quest.
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