Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East?

"Very Good"

Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East? Review


This 1989 art house favorite from Korean filmmaker Yong-Kyun Bae is a narrative contradiction: serene enough to be nothing but meditative, but with core ideas that provide a philosophical challenge. So you may choose to let the film just flow, or search further into its Zen existence to find deeper meaning.

Either way, it's impossible to ignore the movie's natural beauty and visual creativity. Bae's debut feature lingers on his thoughtful images, moving slowly and methodically like the deliberate breathing of one of the film's practicing Buddhist monks.

Bodhi-Dharma focuses on three characters living a simple monastic life: an aging Zen master coming to terms with his coming death; his student, a younger man in a desperate search for enlightenment; and a small boy just discovering more complex emotions.

The life in which the trio exists is shot with such careful beauty it could be a collection of images in search of a plot. The young man meditates silently while a rushing waterfall surrounds him. The boy floats in a pond, his own colors creating a connection with the reflection of nearby leaves and rocks. (Water is treated the way Teshigahara shot sand in Woman in the Dunes.) Without over-exaggerating the visual pleasures, I'd be interested in a coffee table novel full of stills from the film.

But the meaning of some scenes is elusive, a difficult reality in a movie of such unorthodox pacing and presentation. Bae, however, is smart to create an early scene of near-universal meaning: The old man pulls out the boy's tooth by wrapping a string around it and giving it a surprisingly quick tug. He does so with a laugh, and the boy is given salt water to rinse and a quick hug. It's the movie's only sign of warmth and humor as we can recognize it in the Western world.

And, as expected, the Eastern way of thinking is everywhere. The film's title is actually a reference to a "koan" -- a riddle intended as a focal point of concentration to those searching for enlightenment. In this case, it is a Buddhist parable asking one to consider the meanings of "leaving" and "arriving," and how those concepts relate to the ideas of belonging and home.

As a central theme, this conundrum is ever-present; which in itself seems to be a contradiction to relinquishing modern life and reaching the Buddhist ideal. The master teaches that giving up all familial ties and conventional trappings allow the soul to live without pain and disappointment. Yet pain exists for the film's characters, be it physical or emotional. So if deciding to "return" to a more complex life is a faster path to understanding, does the idea still apply?

That's the kind of constant questioning and consideration that turn Bodhi-Dharma into a combination of a modern art class, theology lecture, and philosophy discussion, but with few actions and even fewer words.

The 2007 DVD includes 10 minutes of never-before-seen footage -- making the film an even more challenging 145 minutes -- and improved English subtitles. The lack of extras is a disappointment, as some sort of behind-the-scenes look would be a treat for such a mysterious looking film.

Aka Dharmaga tongjoguro kan kkadalgun.



Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East?

Facts and Figures

Run time: 137 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 23rd September 1989

Production compaines: Bae Yong-kyun Productions

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Fresh: 6

IMDB: 7.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Yong-Kyun Bae

Producer: Yong-Kyun Bae

Starring: Yi Pan-Yong as Hye-gok, Sin Won-Sop as Ki-bong, Hae-Jin Huang as Hae-jin, Su-Myong Ko as Abbot, Byeong-hui Yun as Ki-bong's mother

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Murder on the Orient Express Movie Review

Murder on the Orient Express Movie Review

The latest adaptation of Agatha Christie's 83-year-old classic whodunit, this lavish, star-studded film is old-style...

Paddington 2 Movie Review

Paddington 2 Movie Review

The first Paddington movie in 2014 is already such a beloved classic that it's hard...

A Bad Moms Christmas Movie Review

A Bad Moms Christmas Movie Review

Everyone's back from last year's undemanding adult comedy, plus some starry new cast members, for...

Brawl in Cell Block 99 Movie Review

Brawl in Cell Block 99 Movie Review

Filmmaker S. Craig Zahler brought a blast of offbeat creativity to the Western genre two...

The Death of Stalin Movie Review

The Death of Stalin Movie Review

Fans of the film In the Loop and the TV series Veep will definitely not...

Call Me By Your Name Movie Review

Call Me By Your Name Movie Review

Set in northern Italy in the summer of 1983, this internationally flavoured drama is a...

Thor: Ragnarok Movie Review

Thor: Ragnarok Movie Review

The most riotously enjoyable Marvel movie yet, this action epic benefits hugely from the decision...

Advertisement
Breathe Movie Review

Breathe Movie Review

While this biopic has the standard sumptuous production values of a British period drama, it's...

The Snowman Movie Review

The Snowman Movie Review

With a cast and crew packed with A-list talent, this film seems like it should...

The Party Movie Review

The Party Movie Review

Comedies don't get much darker than this pitch-black British movie, written and directed by Sally...

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) Movie Review

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) Movie Review

Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha) is on his way to becoming the new Woody Allen, which...

6 Below Movie Review

6 Below Movie Review

Based on an astonishing true survival story, this film is subtitled "Miracle on the Mountain",...

Mother Movie Review

Mother Movie Review

Darren Aronofsky doesn't make fluffy movies, and has only had one genuine misfire (2014's Noah)....

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

It's been 35 years since Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic, which was set in 2019....

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.