It has to be said, and said early: this film is incredibly beautiful to watch. The setting, a floating hermitage on the ethereal Jusan Lake (not my poetic expression, alas. I cribbed it from the HKIFF2004 programme), provides a backdrop of natural tranquility. The tempo is slow and measured, allowing the audience to drift along with the growing monk. The story is simple yet moving, expressing grand questions of life, the universe, and pretty much everything.
This is a fairly spiritual movie, and you’ll get a lot out of it provided you’re able to lose the frenetic western sense of time and adapt to life as it is lived in the hermitage. Things here happen when they happen, and take as long as they need, so if you’re someone who needs action and resolution, you’ll probably not enjoy it.
The thing this film most reminds me of is a piece of music: “Feather On The Breath Of God”, written by Hildegard of Bingen. Choral work from a 12th century abbess might seem an odd soulmate for a 21st century ‘bad boy’ Korean director, but the two works share an ethereal quality, just as the creators share an ability to create something that is aurally or visually sublime.