January 21, 2009

Why Has Bodhi Dharma Left for the East?: Does Anybody in the West Really Care?


Writer-director-editor-cinematographer-riddler-esthete-bore Bae Yong-kyuh took seven years to make Why Has Bodhi Dharma Left for the East and you'll feel as though he's robbed you of just that many years once you've watched this flick in its entirety. An interminable meditation on The Way, this movie subscribes to one of its many grating profundities: "Form is emptiness, emptiness is form." With such a maxim in mind, little is said and what little is said has little meaning. Some may argue, the nature of nature itself is the meaning but personally, I think there's a reason the old monk (Yi Pan-yong) hasn't amassed many followers. He's not that deep. The only followable instruction he gives to his one acolyte (Sin Won-sup) is to burn him in an old wooden chest when he's dead. Otherwise, it's basically, let moon, sky and mountain be your teachers. Helped by such a faculty, his follower decides to "be like a tree and leave" after the funeral. That there's a child (Huang Hae-jin) adopted into the faith who will now be left entirely alone at the monastery doesn't overly concern him. But then that boy's not a likable child. Listen carefully to Jin Gyu-yeong's demonic soundtrack or take note of that stalking bird if you have any doubts.

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