With its idyllic setting and Buddhist theme, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring might look like a startling about-face from Kim Ki-duk, whose violent, psychologically brutal films have earned him the title of Korean cinema's reigning bad boy. Kim's cinema of cruelty has polarized audiences, but even his detractors admit that his talent is undeniable, even when applied to such fare as Bad Guy, which chronicles, in explicit detail, the degradation of a college girl forced into prostitution. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring marks a new direction for its director, but not at the expense of the intensity that has brought him such notoriety. Kim illustrates the tenets of Buddhism through vignettes rooted in the sometimes cruel realities of the world. Sexual obsession, murder, and suicide are major themes. The boy monk is shown torturing real animals in the film's first section on his way to learning about the sanctity of life. Even the gorgeous landscape in which the film is set reveals itself to be a sometimes dangerous place. In many ways, this film retrospectively illuminates his previous work. Life in Kim's films is fraught with emotional and physical violence. This film, perhaps his best, reveals the spiritual yearning behind his dark vision.