MovieChat Forums > Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East? (1989) Discussion > Questions about this movie (and SPOILERS...

Questions about this movie (and SPOILERS)


SPOILERS follow.

I've watched this movie twice now and I have several questions. I understand it better the second time, and I really need to watch it again. If you can offer answers to any of these questions, please post here.

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Why did the opening scene show Kibong waiting for a train to pass? It made for a rough transition to the next scene and the rest of the film.

Was Haejin's dunking scene a dream? If so, whose dream was it? The Master took him out of town when he was an infant, so he had no memory of other boys.

It looked like the Master was sitting next to Kibong on the bus when he went to get the medicine. Who was it?

Just before Kibong left town with the medicine, he spoke to someone in a dark, rocky place. The other man told him he used to be a hermit but now he was returning to the world. Who was he, and what were the circumstances of this meeting?

Why did the Master call Kibong's trip to the temple with Haejin an "alibi"? Was he going to notify them of the Master's illness?

What was the symbolism of the temple ceremony that took place while the Master was dying?

Was the ox crying at the Master's cremation?

Why did Haejin burn the Master's things? Did he achieve some degree of enlightenment as well? (He didn't drop the bowl this time when the bird called.)

Why did the Bodhidharma koan appear in the title when it doesn't appear anywhere in the film? Why not use the koan that the Master gave to Kibong instead?

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possible poor answers... cant find any better...


train: as is said to the boy, they all come from the world, maybe an illustration for that; the contrast is indeed quiet strong

I thought the dancer is Death in person or sth like that

The ox cries, definitely - is also + than an animal in a western sense as it brings the boy back home before escaping again, consciously

I also though of Haejin's enlightenment as he is left alone...

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I can't believe you ask these questions ; this movie shows you something for it's own value, he takes the train because he leaves his family, but that's not the point, the only thing which is important is the visual effect of the scene, as the screen is considered a two-dimensionnal plan, there isn't any metaphysical message. This movie has any mysterious intentions nor metaphysical message, you can refer to this zen maxim : "when I eat, I eat, when I sleep, I sleep" ; things are just happening on the screen, there's no symbol, that's why this movie is so much deeper than the new-age "samsara", the kitsh "Kundun" or even "Stalker" (even though Tarkovski always said there was no symbol in his movie, it's too metaphorical).
the only other directors who understood this aspect of zen into filmmaking is Yasujiro Ozu, just watch the beginning of an Ozu's movie and you'll see the same treatment.
Thank you for your questions and let me know if you don't agree.

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I don't agree that the only other director who understands Zen is Ozu.

Have you seen Mandala by Im Kwon Taek? A masterpiece of Zen in cinema!

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I find it completely absurd to say that Ozu is "Zen cinema". It's just stupid exotism from Western people. Ozu shouldn't be put in the "arthouse film" category. I don't understand why people have such problem seeing this when watching his films.

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I have never seen an Ozu film, so I can't comment.

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I only have watched it once, and 3 hours ago, I should watch it again too. I will see if I can make some answers for you.

Just before Kibong left town with the medicine, he spoke to someone in a dark, rocky place. The other man told him he used to be a hermit but now he was returning to the world. Who was he, and what were the circumstances of this meeting?


I took it to be that he was "thinking aloud" "thinking to himself" so to speak that the other person was himself rehearsing what he was about to say to the master. I thought this because I didn't have a clue who that guy could be.

Was the ox crying at the Master's cremation? - Yes

Why did Haejin burn the Master's things? Did he achieve some degree of enlightenment as well? (He didn't drop the bowl this time when the bird called.)


I would think so, yes, or he just grew up a little bit and remembered some of his masters words. When he did not get scared by the bird, the bird flew away, again suggesting a degree of maturity had occured, not necessarily enlightenment. The bird flying away could be said to be his fear flying away, or it could be just the bird flying away. Or it could be both, i.e. he realises a bird is a bird and birds fly away all the time, not to be feared.

Why did the Bodhidharma koan appear in the title when it doesn't appear anywhere in the film? Why not use the Kong-an that the Master gave to Kibong instead?
a) Because it is a famous Kong-an
b) Because it could be used for the characters Master or Kibong, both of whom were "leavers of home". Kibong even asked Master in the film "Why do you stay here in the mountains?" Which is very similar question. Master gave a real world answer rather than a Zen answer, it's a shame there was not more Zen speak in the film.

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"Why did the Bodhidharma koan appear in the title when it doesn't appear anywhere in the film? Why not use the koan that the Master gave to Kibong instead?"

The quote was not actually a koan. It is a passage from a sutra depicting the attainment of enlightenment by Sakyamuni's follower who is considered the first patriarch of zen (cha'an). In the story the buddha holding up the flower is all that it took for the guys name to attain satori. in zen there is a belief that simple natural occurances such as witnessing a frog leap or a ripple on a pond will often trigger satori. The filmakers could have used this quote because it is seen as the begining of zen and it is placed at the very beggining of the film.

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That may be true (about it appearing in a sutra) but it does not mean that the title is not also a well known Kong-an more often quoted as

"Why did Bodhidharma come to the East"

The diciple who understood Buddha's flower sermon was Mahakashyapa the disciple who came to China 800 years later was called Bodhidharma. The beggining of Zen is generally seen as the Buddha's flower sermon, not Bodhidharmas migration.

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Why did Haejin burn the Master's things? Did he achieve some degree of enlightenment as well? (He didn't drop the bowl this time when the bird called.)


Possibly an allusion to an old, well loved, Zen story:

Once, when he was travelling, Tanka Tennen stopped overnight in a temple. It was so cold that he made a fire of one of the wooden Buddha statues. When he was chastised the following morning by the temple monks, Tanka explained that he had burnt the statue so he could take the Buddha's bones.
"How could a wooden statue have bones?" a monk asked Tanka Tannen.
"Then why have you chastised me?" replied Tanka.

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[deleted]

Ahh, yes. Like all us literally minded, you have chosen to dissect the film based on logic, pattern and linear thinking. Perhaps if you are planning on making your own film and using elements from this plotline, this is a good thing to do. But as a few people have pointed out; it's possible that may not be the point to this movie. He's taking the train to the monastery, (or) it symbolizes leaving the bustling world behind, (or) it's a great visual for introducing the character; all possibly true. Does it matter? Not necessarily. One may note there is not much dialog; and consequently not much explanation of what is happening. Perhaps the filmmaker made it so, for a reason. I personally prefer it this way, as it makes ...BODHI-DHARMA... a unique experience. You can choose to experience it, and let it affect you as it may. You can look for symbolism and puzzle out all the meanings you can construct from the amount of visual and auditory information given. You can dissect the plot and fashion a logical storyline from it. You could even come to the conclusion this film is unfinished or poorly made; as it doesn't do a good enough job of making sense. It is always up to you. Check it out. Observe your response. Check back a few years later. Your response may change. Like any film ...BODHI-DHARMA... will only take you as far as you are willing to go. Fruitful viewing to us all.

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I think you have asked some great quwations here and from what i can see they have been answered. This is a film i have watched over 20 times becuase its a topic I am very interested. Meditation, Yoga and spirituallity are life changing and can even safe a person's life as it did in my case.. the world would be a better place if we all adopted just some of these pronciples and life values.


The Guide To Self Enlightenment http://www.BestMeditate.info

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So nobody knows. Only lots of woolly 'could be this, could be that' twaddle.

Deliberate obscurantism in the service of mysticism is a cheap trick - the quote from WC Fields comes to mind: "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bulls**t."

This looks to me like the complete failure of Buddhism - nihilistic, hopeless and dispiriting, full of sad unconvicing self-denial and sentimentality, ultimately pointless. Like everyone else, I'm having to guess, because if the director did have a specific intention, then clearly he didn't nail it.

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