Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East?
This week Milestone is releasing the director's edition on DVD for the first time, complete with 10 minutes of previously unseen footage, and even with no other extras to speak of, it's a cause for celebration
Reviewed by Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., Oct. 19, 2007
Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East?New Yorker Video/Milestone Cinematheque, $29.95
Back in the fifth century, an Indian monk named Bodhi-Dharma crossed the border into China to spread the word of Zen Buddhism. His new religion would soon become a hit throughout Asia before working its way to the West, where it became the philosophy of choice for thousands of beatniks looking for a way to legitimize their love of not moving much. Fifteen hundred years later, in 1989, first-time filmmaker Bae Yong-kyun, a visual-arts professor in Korea, shocked the movie world with Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East?, an ambling, lyrical epic of quietude that comes as close as any film before or since to capturing the poetic contemplation and emotional purging at the heart of that misunderstood religion. This week Milestone is releasing the director's edition on DVD for the first time, complete with 10 minutes of previously unseen footage, and even with no other extras to speak of, it's a cause for celebration. Bae has only made two films in his 20-year career, and like his brother in cinematic scarcity, Terrence Malick, each of his musing, meandering masterpieces deserves a king's welcome and an expert remastering job. Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East? is about three Zen monks living high in the mountains of Korea, far from the temptations and attachments of the modern world: There is aging Hye-gok, who is happily awaiting his death and the release of his spirit from its corporeal prison; there's an orphan boy named Hae-jin, who enjoys wandering around in the woods learning about the transient nature of life; and lastly there is Hye-gok's apprentice, Ki-bong, who is struggling with his decision to chose freedom over family and enlightenment over morality. Though on the surface peaceful and poetic, and marked by enough magnificent shots of smoky mountainsides and dew-covered leaves to turn Dick Cheney green, Bae's film also features a menacing synthesizer soundtrack (by Jin Gyu-yeong) and a tone of pervasive sadness. Contrary to what our pop-culture imagination may have us believe, the Zen life of renunciation is no stroll through the forest.
Also Out Now
I Am Cuba: The Ultimate Edition (New Yorker Video/Milestone Cinematheque, $44.95): Presented by Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, Mikhail Kalatozov's odd masterpiece stands at the elusive spot where Eisenstein meets Godard. And if I could remember any other directors' names, I'd mention them, as well.
Funny Face: 50th Anniversary Edition (Paramount, $14.99): The steady rise of Audrey Hepburn and the inevitable decline of Fred Astaire are set to a Gershwin soundtrack, highlighted by the long-lost classic "You're on a Steady Rise, and I'm on an Inevitable Decline – Why Not Fall in Love?"