In a remote mountain monastery above a bustling city, an old Zen master, his conflicted young apprentice, and an orphaned boy live a life of quiet contemplation. The old master, nearing his end, wishes to make the ceremony of his death his final lesson to his apprentice, who is struggling to come to terms with the worldly life he left behind. Meanwhile the young boy has his own awakening to mortality as he attempts to nurse a bird he thoughtlessly injured with a stone.
The first Korean feature to ever have theatrical distribution in the United States, Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East? has been acclaimed by critics and audiences around the world as a film of remarkable power and beauty. The title of the film is a Zen koan— a paradox meant to aid meditation—that provokes the question of the distinction between leaving and arriving.