Mandala is a 1981 South Korean film about Buddhist monks in Korea. This is considered by many critics to be director Im Kwon-taek's breakthrough film as a cinematic artist.
The film follows the differing lives of two Buddhist monks in Korea. By following their lives and their interaction throughout the film, Im creates a contemplation of the nature of individualism, religious belief and enlightenment.
Six years after renouncing the secular world to solve the riddle of life and death, young Buddhist monk Beob-wun (Ahn Sung-ki) is still roaming the country without coming any closer to enlightenment. While riding a bus, he sees a recreant monk placed in a predicament because he does not have his identification. He helps out the monk, named Ji-san (Jeon Mu-song), and the two begin to travel together.
Ji-san, who always has a bottle of booze on hand and even carries around a suicide pill, sometimes seems like an enlightened saint and at other times like a reprobate infected by secular life. At first, Beob-wun regards Ji-san's eccentricities as mere outward show and despises him for it, but he increasingly senses an extraordinariness about his traveling companion. After repeated meetings and partings, the two monks settle down at a small temple deep in the mountains. While climbing up to the temple one day in an inebriated state, Ji-san falls asleep in the snow and freezes to death. Beob-wun burns Ji-san's remains and seeks out his own mother (Park jung-ja). He also meets Ok-sun, a woman Ji-san had never gotten over. His meetings reaffirm the futility of all secular relationships, and young Beob-wun sets off on his ascetic path once more.
A masterpiece among Korean religious films, and one of the most beautiful of Im Kwon-taek's works
The long shot of Beob-wun and Ji-san as they walk along the tree-lined path marking the boundary between snow and mud a shot that recalls the grace of a black-and-white ink painting conveys the most beautiful image of companionship in Korean cinematic history. The path they tread also symbolizes the boundary between passion and enlightenment, life and death, reincarnation and nirvana. In the first half of Mandara, Ji-san is characterized as someone who, in the words of Beob-wun, "is imitating the eccentricities of the enlightened priests of old." But as the movie progresses, his image begins to take on increasing genuineness.
The narrative of Mandara is, in a sense, the process of presenting in a timely manner various pieces of information that infuse life and inspiration into the character of Ji-san. The movie also boasts outstanding direction and camera work, striking a curious contrast between direct lines that give testimony to the times e.g. "Monks must never get fat; they have no right to be" and indirect, stable cinematography that enfolds the characters who utter these lines into the arms of nature.
cybershamans (karmapolice) / CC BY-NC-ND 3.0