Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East?

Yong-Kyun Bae is a stylist whose understanding of cinema's relationship to intuitive knowledge gives this film its revelatory quality. (The title refers to the first Chinese patriarch of Zen who is said to have brought a new teaching emphasizing the direct apprehension of the Absolute.) In a remote monastery on Mount Chonan live an elderly monk, Hyegok, and two disciples: Kibong, who left the pain and confusion of the city, and Haejin, an orphaned child. Kibong is given a koan, a Zen riddle, to guide his meditations, while for the boy, the forest and its creatures serve to point the way. As in a sequence alluding to the well-known ox-herding pictures of Zen Buddhism, everyday incidents promise potential knowledge. A young man still half in the World, a child in and on the river, a jay who follows their every move-these “prisoners of the links created by birth and death” (Bae) are the characters in a film that is very much about the World.

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