Burning (2018) Poster

(2018)

User Reviews

Review this title
200 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
8/10
A slow-burning mystery about economics, class, and sexual jealousy. And cats.
Bertaut16 February 2019
A thriller about a missing person. An allegory of class division. A study of generational alienation. A fable about modern consumerism. A dramatisation of psychological breakdown and genetically inherited rage. An analysis of socio-economic disenfranchisement. A critique of toxic masculinity and its concomitant misogyny. A condemnation of middle-class gentrification. A threnody for a traditional Korea that's slowly being replaced by faceless cosmopolitanism. An extended rib on Schrödinger's cat. Beoning is all of these. And none of them. This is a narrative fundamentally built on questions, very few of which are answered definitively.

In his first film in eight years, writer/director Chang-dong Lee begins this protean narrative as an almost high school-esque teen romance, before shifting gears into a story of sexual and economic jealousy, then morphing into the tale of a pseudo-film noir amateur sleuth, before finally allowing itself to visit the thriller territory that has lurked just outside the frame since the opening few scenes. Essentially a psychological drama about three people, although it's possible that only one of those people is real. There are also two cats. Or maybe only one cat. It's a long journey (148 minutes), and, for some, the payoff won't be worth the length of time taken to get there. Others, more used to concrete black-and-white yes-and-no narratives, will be unimpressed with how steadfastly the film refuses to yield its secrets. However, it has an undeniable ability to burrow under your skin, with Lee bestowing portentous significance upon the most inanimate of objects, only to later reveal that whilst we were trying to figure out the importance of item a, we missed the significance of item b.

Adapted by Lee and Jungmi Oh from Haruki Murakami's 1983 short story "Barn Burning", which is itself loosely inspired by William Faulkner's 1939 short story of the same name, Beoning is set in contemporary South Korea, and tells the story of aspiring novelist Lee Jong-su (Ah-in Yoo). Working as a part-time delivery man in Seoul, he encounters Shin Hae-mi (Jong-seo Jun), who claims they went to school together, although he doesn't remember her. Telling him she will shortly be travelling to Africa, she asks him to feed her cat, Boil. He agrees, and the two have sex. Jong-su happily feeds Boil, and even though every time he comes to the apartment, the cat is nowhere to be seen, the food and water are disappearing. A few weeks later, she returns with Ben (Steven Yeun), a confidant, irritatingly polite, and extremely wealthy young man. The trio develop an odd relationship, and one evening, Jong-su admits to Ben that he loves Hae-mi, and Ben tells him about his strange hobby of burning greenhouses. A few days later, Hae-mi disappears, and Jong-su, suspecting Ben, sets out to find her.

Beoning is masterfully constructed upon a foundation of questions, only a very few of which are answered. Some of the bigger questions include, why does Jong-su not remember Hae-mi from school; what happened to Hae-mi; what does Ben do for a living; is his admission that he has never cried evidence of sociopathy; does he really burn down greenhouses? There are also a whole host of smaller mysteries running alongside - why does Hae-mi seem to rig a raffle so that Jong-su wins; what exactly did Jong-su's father do (when the film begins, he is standing trial on a vague assault charge); who is calling Jong-su's home in the middle of the night and hanging up; why does he stare at his father's knives the way he does; where is his sister; does Boil exist; is Ben's rescue cat the same cat as the never-seen Boil; did Hae-mi really fall down a well as a child? Some (or more) of these questions remain unanswered, although there are certainly clues scattered throughout.

Thematically, the film covers a plethora of issues; toxic masculinity, alpha and beta males, economics and consumerism, class, the place of women in Korean society, sexual jealousy, the death of a bucolical way of life, working-class privations, faceless capitalism, the price of success, hope, writer's block. Of course, some are more foregrounded than others, with economics in particular emphasised. For example, the film cuts from a scene of the trio at a swanky nightclub (into which Ben has ensured they could go) to a scene of Jong-su alone, mucking out the cow stable. The contrast between the lifestyles of the two men couldn't be clearer. Jong-su belongs to a generation of working-class people who will be economically worse off than their parents were at the same age, whilst the gap between the middle-class and the working class has grown wider than ever. The Korea of the film is very much a place of castes, hierarchies of privilege and social standing, with Jong-su and Ben on the opposite end of every spectrum.

The film also engages significantly with gender politics. One of the things that so captivates Jong-su about Hae-mi is her provocative behaviour. Yet later, when she dances topless outside his house, he is disgusted, telling Ben, "only a wh-re acts like that." It's a succinct summary of a societal double-standard; men can behave how they wish, but women must conform to arbitrary expectations. It could be argued that Hae-mi functions primarily to further Jong-su and Ben's arcs, and is devoid of any real agency herself. An alternative reading, however, is that she is poorly sketched as a character so as to represent a patriarchal society in which women are seen as less complex than men. For the most part, Beoning avoids didacticism on this issue, but to suggest that Hae-mi is simply a badly written character seems to me to be a very superficial interpretation of a film with great depth.

However, there is also the possibility that Hae-mi doesn't actually exist, and in this sense, the fact that she is presented in such sexualised terms is because she is literally a male's fantasy, a sexual obsession born in the disturbed mind of an unreliable narrator. The film is told exclusively from Jong-su's perspective, he is in every scene, and the narrative never shifts to another focal character or to an omniscient viewpoint. With this in mind, everything we see is filtered through his ideological outlook; if he attaches significance to an object, the audience is invited to do likewise. Lee masterfully handles this tricky structural device, placing the audience directly into the same (possibly paranoid) headspace as the character. So, for example, when Jong-su sees Ben yawning as Hae-mi is recreating a dance she learned in Kenya, the yawn becomes immensely sinister, because that's how Jong-su interprets it. In this sense, if one theorises that Hae-mi is, in fact, a figment of Jong-su's imagination - an idealisation of a beautiful woman who wants him - then Ben must also originate in Jong-su's mind, functioning as the inverse to Hae-mi; a personification of everything to which Jong-su aspires, but is unable to attain. The fact that Lee leaves this tantalising possibility on the table whilst still managing to analyse social-realist topics such as economics and class, is a testament to his extraordinary control over the material.

One of the most salient motifs, if not necessarily a theme unto itself, is that of disappearance, with references scattered throughout the film - Hae-mi notes that her childhood home is gone, as is the well she fell into; Jong-su recollects how after his mother abandoned the family, his father burnt her clothes; when Ben tells Jong-su about his greenhouse hobby, he states, "you can make it disappear as if it never even existed"; Hae-mi literally says she wants to disappear; when Jong-su asks Ben if it's possible Hae-mi has gone on another trip, Ben says, "maybe she disappeared like a puff of smoke". The most important scene in this sense is an early one. Explaining that she's learning pantomime, Hae-mi proceeds to mime peeling and eating a tangerine, telling Jong-su the trick isn't to pretend the tangerine is really there, but to "forget it doesn't exist". This challenge to perception is crucial not just in how Jong-su becomes convinced Hae-mi has met foul play despite the lack of evidence, it also provides a clue for the audience as to how best to parse the film itself.

Of course, for all that, there are a few problems. For one, it's a little too long, and there are occasions when the narrative seems somewhat desultory. I would imagine that a lot of people will also dislike the ambiguity. Personally, I loved this aspect and thought Lee handled it magnificently, but it certainly isn't for everyone. A minor issue is that as protagonists go, Jong-su is extremely passive, a character to whom things happen rather than the narrative's driving force. Again, some people will dislike this aspect, but I think it's important that Jong-su is depicted this way, especially in relation to the final scene. Of that scene, it could be seen as disappointingly familiar, something seen in any number of standard genre pieces. I disagree with that, but I can see where the criticism is coming from, as it does conform neatly to the rubric of a quotidian thriller.

All in all, I found Beoning to be a haunting film, one which I couldn't get out of head for days, and I'm keen to see it again. Lee's masterful control of tone is extraordinary, balancing a plethora of themes within a half-social-realist/half-magic-realist milieu. As good an exercise in cinematic suggestiveness as you're likely to see, Lee subtly alters mood so as to manipulate, push, prod, guide, and fool the audience. The film is such that everything on screen, every word spoken, every background detail could be important. Or not. Fiercely intelligent, deeply nuanced, complexly layered, it's a film that rewards concentration. It is, simply put, the finely crafted work of a distinct and relevant auteur.
191 out of 236 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
Burning questions
gizmomogwai4 February 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Burning, the 2018 FIPRESCI Prize-winning film from South Korea, has a mysterious quality to it, and not just because this romantic drama-thriller also belongs (perhaps most of all) to the mystery genre. Slow paced, understated, it's the kind of film that can create tension in simple moments like silence, watching, following. It appears there could be a simple, straightforward solution: Ben is a serial killer who has murdered Hae-mi, and Jong-su is putting the pieces together. But is it that simple?

1. What was the significance of Jong-su being a writer? Jong-su is trying to craft a novel; perhaps he's finding his subject as he goes. An elderly man (a career counselor?) remarks to Jong-su that protagonists are always "crazy". This may be telling the audience to ask questions about Jong-su himself. Ben also tells Hae-mi to ask Jong-su what a metaphor is. Why is that exchange in the film, and why are we being told to look for it?

2. What is the significance of Hae-mi's well story? It sows doubt in Jong-su's mind about Hae-mi's honesty. He goes back and forth trying to find out if the story is true. Is it a literal truth or does it refer to a spiritual state?

3. What is the significance of the "Great Hunger" theme? When Hae-mi describes an African sunset and her desire to disappear in it, the line is presumed to be innocent and is forgettable on first viewing. Does it provide any answers as to Hae-mi's disappearance?

4. Why does Jong-su set fire to part of a greenhouse? He's frightened of what Ben can do, but comes close to doing it himself. Is Jong-su what he is afraid of?

5. Why William Faulkner? Ask a literary expert, I don't know.

6. Why the subplot of Jong-su's father being charged with assault? This doesn't fit in anywhere into the Ben-Hae-mi plot. A red herring? A useful explanation as to Jong-su's psychology?

7. Why does Jong-su question whether Boil the cat lives only in Hae-mi's mind? He never sees Boil until at Ben's home. Is Boil a smoking gun or is he an illusion?

8. What's the significance of North Korea being within sight of the main setting and their propaganda being in earshot? A sense of place, or perhaps a sign we should look at divisions in Korean society, a Korea with both struggling youth and Great Gatsbys.

9. Why is Jong-su's military service mentioned so briefly? One wonders what we can learn from where he went, what he saw and what happened to him.

10. Why the conversation on how the Chinese are like the Americans? We're directed to think about people who put them in the centre of everything and people considerate of others. Ben is the type who puts himself in the centre; is Jong-su too?

With so many mysteries, Burning is the kind of film that demands repeated viewings and thought, a psychological mystery waiting to be decoded.
126 out of 156 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Snubbed for Oscar nomination
Infected_Dave24 January 2019
I must say that this is one of that kind of movies with slow pace but great reward at the end, the three main characters are interesting (specially the girl which is lovely) and even if superficially you don't see anything particularly special, you feel curious enough to see what is going to happen with the three of them, specially when you start to see the key elements that make this movie awesome.

With a wonderful cinematography, great acting and direction, and beautifully adapted from a short story by Murakami, I still can't believe this is not nominated for the Oscar.

If you don't care if a movie is slow and for a long period of time nothing is going on, try this one because it has a deep story and the production in general is great.
91 out of 119 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Struggle For Salvation
KhederKhedro14 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
When I come across a mysterious movie that is like a puzzle, I'd like to first gather all the pieces that are there.

Haemi:
  • She has left her childhood place, her whole family, she's in debt, has no friends. She's clearly escaping something, a part of herself like her past.
  • Another important thing about Haemi is the stories she tell about her childhood that are not clear whether they are real or lie since Jong Su doesn't remember them.
  • She has a cat which very much has the same quality that she has, stray.
  • The little light she gets on her wall means a lot to her.
  • Her room is really messy which signifies her messed up life.
  • "He's my one and only friend." and "He's the only person I trust.", referring to Jong Su.
  • Little Hunger (her past) - Big Hunger (Salvation)


Jong Su:
  • Everyone seems to be leaving him: mother, father, sister, Haemi, and even his calf.
  • Just like Haemi, he has problems that root in his past.
  • He's also looking for salvation (waiting in Haemi's room for light to get on the wall).
  • His care for greenhouses is perhaps because they represent his identity, the place and culture he grew up in.
  • Helping Boeling (not sure if I got the cat's name correctly) means helping Haemi to him since they basically represent the same idea.
  • Her concerns for Haemi are probably because she is the last thing remaining from his past and he's actually fighting his past trying to prove himself that he's not forsaken: he's not destined to be left by everyone.
  • His hanging jaw signifies his uncertainty and lack of confidence.


Ben:
  • Confident, apparently satisfied, and most importantly a player (as he admits that).
  • The cosmetics box and the accessory drawer strengthen his claim of being a player.
  • Seeing a new girl right after Haemi goes missing, putting makeup on her face, keeping Boeling and the accessories (from his previous victims), smiling at Jong Su every time he goes to one of his gatherings, they all show that he is confident about what he does even when Jong Su becomes suspicious.
  • When he tells Jong Su that he has this habit of burning greenhouses every two months, he's not really talking about greenhouses. By greenhouse he means Haemi who is that "greenhouse really close to Jong Su."


Even though Burning is not a hard film to understand for many, I had to do quite some serious thinking to fully grasp it. At the scene when Ben is cooking for Haemi and Jung So, Lee Chang Dong gives us the key to the whole mystery: metaphor. Without it I probably couldn't realize the reasoning behind many of the actions and emotions I witnessed in the movie.

To put it all together, Haemi is a stray who is escaping her past seeking the meaning of life in a fragile, desperate condition. Her plastic surgery, her sleeping with Jong Su even though she still carries the scar he left her in childhood ("You are really ugly."), and the anecdotes she recites are all sings of a battle inside her, a struggle for salvation. Also we must keep in mind that it was Jong Su who rescued her from the bottom of the well while she was crying and looking up at the round sky and sunlight. He is like a savior angel to her who came down from the heavens (considering the circumstances). The momentary sunlight she gets on her wall every day shows how hopeless her life is. It's in fact a metaphor for Jung Su, her only hope, but when Ben comes around with everything that Jung Su isn't, she gives in to her desires: immediate escape from the past. Although it later becomes clear that she still has only one real hope ("He's the only person I trust.")

In a similar way, Jong Su has serious issues in his past and his way of fighting them is his struggle to prove himself that not everyone has to leave him. He's not confident for most of the film, but when he's left with no options but to face his problem head on, he gathers all his strengths and wipes away one of the causes of his problems. Even though he doesn't solve anything (in the way we define "solve"), he does the best he could do. By stripping and burning his cloths alongside Ben and his fancy car, he cleanses himself of everything he hates. That is when he eventually finds salvation.
43 out of 54 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
The cat, the well, and the greenhouse
andrebacci-889026 November 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Among the most acclaimed films from 2018's Cannes festival, Lee Chang-Dong's first feature in nearly eight years came full of expectations - and boy, does it deliver. This mesmerizing character study kicks off with an unexpected encounter between protagonist Lee Jong-su, a quiet, restrained young man who tends to his father's property - located near the border with North Korea, one of the many ways in which the narrative conveys its unique sense of unease - while he battles in court over his alarming anger issues, and Shin Hae-mi, a wide-eyed, lonely girl with an unsettling penchant for pantomime, who finds herself lost, in a perennial journey to find purpose - or the Great Hunger, as she tells an amused Jong-su. As the two get to know each other again, years after Lee disregarded her in school, they engage in a surprisingly delicate and beautifully filmed encounter, whose dreamy quality he tenderly nourishes, only for Hae-mi to quickly escape, some time later, into another one of her trips. When she returns from Nairobi, the thin glimmer of light that is their relationship evaporates, replaced by an ineroxably growing tension. This is due to the introduction of Ben, the ever-smiling and mysterious man she encountered in Africa. Jong-su is visibly taken aback by his presence, and over the course of a few reunions, his uncanny wealth and excesses provide the audience with discomfort - that is, until Hae-mi suddenly vanishes. From then on, the film becomes a feast of paranoia, barely contained fury, and relentless search for the truth. Was her disappearance obvious from the start, a distant girl with nothing to hold on simply cutting all ties with her world? Or does it have something to do with the uncanny hobby Ben revealed to Lee shortly before she finds herself gone? There is nary a moment wasted throughout its long and breathtaking two and a half hours, that elevate its surreal source material to a rare kind of arthouse thriller, whose slow burning quality finally explodes in a cathartic and ultimately unavoidable ending. Bursting with memorable imagery, richly underpinned by a variety of subtexts such as class tension, misogyny, and anger, impeccably acted and miraculously directed, "Burning" reveals itself as one of the best movies of year. It is self-contained, agressive, and frantic all at once. A must-see for any fan of Murakami - and for anyone who craves a tale of loss and revenge.
95 out of 134 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
Fascinating but maybe over-rated
proud_luddite9 December 2018
Based on the short story "Barn Burning" by Haruki Murakami: in Paju, South Korea, Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) is a young aspiring writer from a dysfunctional family doing odd jobs while also looking after the family farm nearby. He reconnects with a former classmate Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo) whose affections later turn to the very rich Ben (Steven Yuen). Ben's unusual character take everyone down a mysterious path.

At two and a half hours, the film is perhaps too long especially as the first half begins to get dull at a certain point. This thankfully changes when the story and its energy get very mysterious. Here is where the film earns many points for its uniqueness and its subtle ways to lure the viewer into its web. In a good way, this segment is rarely frightening but always intriguing. Also, class difference plays a major role but without being obviously so.

The audience is teased overall with only a minimal amount of information - just enough to understand while still yearning for more by the end. While a bit more information might have raised the film overall, it's still fair to say that the tease pays off for the most part.
70 out of 103 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
Lee Chang-dong's pyromaniac allegory mines into the miasma of today's South Korean society with an astonishing amount of wits and boldness
lasttimeisaw7 February 2019
Warning: Spoilers
After an 8-year hiatus, South Korean auteur Lee Chang-dong returns with a bang! BURNING, his sixth feature, is a slow-burn mystery drama set in the city of Paju, Jong-su (Yoo), a novelist wannabe who takes odd jobs to make ends meet, one day, he bumps into Hae-mi (Jun), his childhood neighbor and classmate, who lives alone in a bedsit and leaves Jong-su to feed her cat when she takes a planned trip to Africa alone.

BURNING commences as a standard meet-cute, a slightly awkward boy and a pretty, proactive girl who daringly makes the first move. But Lee carves out a patiently detailed narrative to hint us that something is afoot with Hae-mi, for one thing, she idiosyncratically contemplates on vanishing, her pantomime-prone antics and theory of make-believing tally with the fact that Jong-su, in fact has never seen her cat "Boil" in person during all his cat-feeding duties (in spite of its dungs and the need to replenish the cat food).

Jong-su's budding love toward Hae-mi comes in for a cold shower when the latter returns from her spiritual trip with a newfound friend Ben (Yeun), a handsome smoothie from beau monde, who claims his job is "play", whose presence instantly pales Jong-su into a self-conscious gooseberry. Hesitantly hobnobbing with Ben and his friends in their posh haunts and Ben's plush apartment, Jong-su finds Hae-mi's ambiguous attitude baffling and Ben's mysterious charisma a bit daunting and suspicious. After a golden afternoon spending in Jong-su's derelict farm (which is put into his reluctant care after his father serves a sentence in jail), where the trio seems to enjoy a reticent communion, with Hae-mi obliviously dancing in the buff under the westering sun, and Ben confessing to Jong-su his bi-monthly greenhouse-burning diversion, an activity might stand for something far more sinister when Hae-mi vanishes from thin air after an seemingly interrupted phone call.

Intending to get the bottom of Hae-mi's disappearance, Jong-su traces all the threads back to Ben, after finding out two "obvious" clues, one is Ben's new cat who incredibly responds to the name "Boil", another is an electronic watch similar to the one he gifts Hae-mi, is later found in Ben's bathroom drawer, Jong-su, who has been delineated as a reactive, taciturn youngster and is characterized by his habitual thousand-yard stare, ably takes a vigilante mission to seek vengeance and surprisingly, Ben's instinct reaction leaves a more ambivalent feeling of what actually happens to Hae-mi, and what is exactly Ben's misdeed?

Loosely based on Haruki Murakami's short story BARN BURNING, BURNING's 2-hour-and-a-half running time manifests Lee's indubitable ambition to project a larger picture with its relatively simple narrative structure, and the most extraordinary thing is his ingenuity and boldness of interspersing missing pieces along the road for audience to piece them together and formulate one's own comprehension of the mystery, which makes for an immensely content and thought-provoking experience for those who can not be sated by a straightforward answer. Is Hae-mi a chronic fabulist, is there really a well near her old home, is she an "offering" of Ben's morbid ritual? Or a bit far-fetch, but the homoerotic tension between Ben and Jong-su is quite tangible, noting Lee's deliberately and cautiously deployed no-physical-contact communication between them, until the moment when Ben poke Jong-su's heart for that "humming" sensation he relishes and pursues, which prompts this reviewer to second-guess that his self-confessed jealousy might stem from an entirely different source, that might grant the love triangle with a new perspective (yes, he is seen reading Faukner, Jong-su's favorite author).

So, what is the bigger picture here? First and foremost, the gaping stratification between the 1% and the the 99% is too big to overlook, Jong-su and Ben's paralleled lives have no intersection if not for Hae-mi's existence, once their paths are crossed, the former has only his dignity to lose and the latter goes nimble-handedly to dissimulate any faint impression of patronage to create a semblance of harmony. Then, there is Hae-mi, another constituent of 99%, but burdened with a disadvantage of her sex, a girl who dwells on "small hunger"and "big hunger", hopelessly tries to compensate her material poverty with a lofty spiritual richness, her own misery emerges as a poignant criticism of a misogynous society (Jong-su's biting remark about her nude dance is a thrilling dagger into her heart) that only takes girls on the skin-deep value (Jong-su once remarked that she is ugly, according to Hae-mi, who owns up that her prettiness is totally artificial during their first encounter), which, if anything, is a tacit accomplice of pushing girls like her to the hands of the ilks like Ben, to have their personhood be obliterated without a trace. Incidentally, social commentary and gender politics aside, Lee also punctuates the story with geopolitical sideswipes that cover North Korea, China and USA altogether.

The trio performers, each richly builds a unique persona with either throbbing vulnerability tinted with a soupçon of self-hurting resignation of a benighted future (Jun, in her first movie), enigmatic urbanity smacks of danger and caprices (Yeun), or strange tenacity riddled with tiny bleeding wounds caused by toxic masculinity (Yoo), together they actualize Lee's perceptive vision of a masterpiece that pluckily delves into the mystical miasma shrouding our contemporary society, in tandem with Mowg's howlingly otherworldly soundtrack and the divine landscape (misty, royal-blue early morning, gold-hued gloaming, etc.) captured by DP. Hong Kyung-pyo.
24 out of 34 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
A hypnotic menagerie of the basest of human behaviour
ctowyi17 October 2018
Terms like "masterpiece" and "breathtaking" are used far too often, yet they define Lee Chang-dong's latest, eight years after his brutally lyrical Poetry (2010). However, Burning, based on Haruki Murakami's short story Barn Burning, is not an easy film to watch. Allusive and elusive, it begins as a brilliant character study and gradually shifts its gear segueing into psychological thriller territory.

Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in), a part-time worker, bumps into Hae-mi (Jun Jeong-seo) while delivering, who used to live in the same neighborhood. Hae-mi asks him to look after her cat while she's on a trip to Africa. When Hae-mi comes back, she introduces Ben (Steven Yuen), a mysterious guy she met in Africa, to Jong-su. One day, Ben visits Jong-su's with Hae-mi and confesses to him during a pot session that he burns abandoned greenhouses.

In anticipation of the film, I re-read the Haruki Murakami's short story taken from the anthology The Elephant Vanishes. Like a lot of his works, the story feels cryptic, simple on the surface, surreal once it gets under your skin. There is a mystery but Murakami doesn't quite persuade you to penetrate beneath the veneer. I certainly didn't think for one second it could be adapted into a film because there doesn't seem to be much of a plot at all. My wife shared the same sentiment. We were all the more curious as to what Lee could distill from this intriguing short story.

Like Murakami's distinctive prose, Lee's Burning retains the other-worldly surreality through arthouse pacing and artful cinematography. The first act moves at a languid pace as we observe Jong-su's infectious reticence and Hae-mi's enthusiastic flamboyance. It is an unlikely match, but you will sense the possibility of a sweet romance. They long to cling near one another like satellites, but they will never share the same orbit because forming the third vertex of the triangular relationship is Ben, the coolly detached upper-class, the spanner in the works, the Great Gatsby.

As much as the first act plays like a meditative dance of a fever dream and an elegy for lost innocence, I also recognise that it will be divisive. I have a feeling most filmgoers won't have the patience to sit through it and be emotionally vested in the characters. Lee may be an extraordinary image maker, gently probing deep into the human psyche, its desires and impulses, but the story feels opaque, dense, resembling an enigma. But if one is a serious filmgoer, it is easy to slip into Lee's rhapsodic wonder of a tale, patiently waiting for the bomb to drop. It is when the head film becomes a mind film in the second act that it pays dividends tenfold.

If Murakami's short story feels deceptively simple, Lee takes it into the nether region of complexity. He unravels what it means to be consumed by a mystery and what it means to be alive. The production is meticulously artful - ponder over how Jong-su's home is a stone's throw from the border of both Koreas and how propaganda is blaring every other hour, and ravel in the beautiful light of the sunset as Ben shares his unusual hobby. Lee is able to externalise the interior states of the human mind in extraordinary ways. The subtext of social classes in the Korean society also plunges a knife into one's consciousness. He is also helped by a unique soundtrack of discordant musical cues that grow in mysterious power as the story grows in stature. Lee builds the final act to a feverish high and he almost wants to deny us the satisfaction of a resolution, but it does arrive at an ending that is shocking and inevitable. There is no celebration; there is only the quiet satisfaction of arriving at the solution of a baffling Math problem that has nagged at you for many sleepless nights.

Lee fills every frame with meaning, enhanced and accentuated in no small part by the three superb leads. He priorities rhythm and texture over narrative clarity, immersing us in a hypnotic menagerie of the basest of human behaviour. Burning is an engrossing tale of the unravelling of a rational and innocent mind by sheer desire, rich with characterisations and themes. It is a Korean film unlike any other Korean film I have seen and it immediately warrants a second or third viewing to catch all the nuances. I hope I don't have to wait another eight years for his next film.
53 out of 85 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
It's burning not outside, but inside
ValDudka27 February 2019
An amazingly graceful Korean story, exciting the viewer's attention and not letting go until the end. The film isn't for a wide audience, lasts 2 and a half hours, it goes slowly and asks a lot of questions. But the plot is built correctly, so that the viewer can understand the characters and start thinking about the questions that have arisen. The independent film seems to be divided into 2 parts: the first tells the story of a love triangle, and the second goes to a fascinating detective thriller. Director Lee Chang-dong wonderfully plays with the viewers' imagination who are trying to understand the thoughts of the main characters and their intentions. I liked very much the juxtaposition of the main characters - the writer Lee Jong-soo, who cannot see the hidden meaning and thus awakens a strong hunger inside himself, which doesn't allow him to sleep and to enjoy a life, to create; his opponent, Ben, a kind of rich Gatsby, quite the opposite one, he is filled with inspiration and understands the true beauty of all things, thus filling himself and everyone around him with a mysterious special flame. The narration is slow, during this time you can fully enjoy the visual component, excellent camera work. Scene setting, editing, actors' play - everything works for the picture and its success. No wonder that the film won a prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
22 out of 32 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
The rare film that gets its value upon reflection.
domtaylor7 February 2019
It's the rare film that gets its value upon reflection rather than during watching. It's not boring as such, but with its extremely long runtime it does generally feel slow paced and often runs the risk of being quite dull. Luckily though, the pure sense of mystery that surrounds the three core players (our protagonist included) and the film's world as a whole keeps things intriguing throughout. As the narrative progresses, however, and the core mystery of the piece arrives, things get a lot more intriguing and this intrigue lasts long after the haunting finale. That's where the film really gets its merit. None of the enigmas are definitively answered, and this leads to an extremely subtle - yet wholly rewarding - experience that allows you to draw your own conclusions of what it was actually about. The picture could be about several different things, and it all depends on the individual spectator response. This, as well as the complete lack of on-the-nose exposition, is very refreshing in today's age of cinema where nothing is left to the imagination anymore. We are not told, or even explicitly shown, anything integral to answer the core mystery and this allows you to reflect on all of the intricacies of several different scenes in order to draw your own conclusions. It really is a one of a kind experience that will leave you scrutinising for days, discovering a new narrative possibility upon every thought. Its slow pace and the sense that it's not really going anywhere might make it seem hard to get through initially, but once it's over it becomes a rich, rewarding experience. 7/10
17 out of 24 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
5/10
Slow and pointless
biont11 September 2018
Okay, guys. This is one slow-paced movie that adds no value whatsoever. You waste two and a half hours looking at a "brain-dead" guy walking around doing moronic investigation. The dude is a total redneck, mouth half opened, slow and stupid. Pure in his heart, but dumb in his brain. So, that's what you get in the end. A story of a kind stupid kid and his crush. It would've been a hell of a thriller back in the days when the original story was written. But this story in 2018 is pure boredom, unless you are completely in love with this particular actor playing a limp dummy, or perhaps with the decorations, that are beautifully shot, I must say. For the overall pretty wrap of a simple idea I give it 5 stars, but would never want to see it again.
128 out of 227 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
"Breathless in 2018": Just an independent creation rather than an adaptation
humanome10 August 2018
Warning: Spoilers
If you try to find out the traces of original novel (Haruki's), or usual "answers" (e.g. is Hae-Mi killed? by whom?), you might be easily lost. Or at least find the movie very confusing, vague, and dull. First of all, the movie got some style and motifs from the original novel, but it is almost nothing to do with it.

The movie is intentionally centered on the view, angle (the shaky, rough, and sometimes surrealistic camera work), and what Jong-su can see, think, and understand - reflecting the inner Chaos. For him, the world around him is mysterious, confusing, depressing, and outraging. He has not been doing anything wrong, but he sees no hope or future. He wants to be a writer, but he even does not know what he wants to write. for him Hae-mi was the rarest luck (same as the only ephemeral sunshine that Hea-mi's room can have from the reflection of the tower). As an unexpected guy (Ben) interrupts between Jong-su and Hae-mi, and starts to approach Hae-mi with his wealth, Jong-su's hidden wrath toward outside world become more confused, desperately tries to find out what he can get existentialistic understandings.

Overall, the movie bears heavy social connotations, albeit hidden or slightly mentioned within Jong-su's cognitive reach. I think this is the new challenge of the renouned director (Chang-Dong Lee) - an "omniscent viewpoint from the disorganized youth - even the movie only shows what Jong-su can understand with his own language and grammar. Is this a good way to raise an issue and make it sympathized with audience? I don't know. but I can say for certain that it is not a usual approach. I want to call this movie another "Breathless" (of Goddard's) re-created in 2018 Korea, rather than from the Haruki's.

Just I did not really like the latter part of Jong-su's obsessed quest - Not very symbolic or has tense structure with overall movie. Probably many audience has been lost after the latter half. I won't recommend this movie who are seeking Avengers or Deadpool.
49 out of 82 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
These people will probably not be fans of Burning, but I find it terrific.
YobHillewaert23 September 2018
I believe people who as kids could not silently work on a puzzle for hours, but who gave up after only completing the edges, probably won't be fond of 'Burning'.

I believe people who always need a recipe, even after having cooked eggs hundreds of times before in their lives, probably won't be fond of 'Burning'.

I believe boys or men who never cry because they genuinely think it's for girls probably won't be fans of 'Burning'. (This is different from having been taught not to cry by elder brothers, like myself)

I believe people who, watching films or reading books, have never empathised with the feelings of someone who leads a completely different life, probably won't be fans of 'Burning'.

I cannot tell you to like it, but I am this (probably sensitive) guy who was really moved by the film. It haunts me, and I'll tell you why.

The way director Lee Chang-Dong made me experience Jongsu's powerlessness is riveting. I could feel his anger and insecurity when poor Jongsu discovered his 'girlfriend' Hae-Mi accompanied by the shining and rich Ben at the airport. Later on, Hae-Mi goes missing and Jongsu does everything in his power to find her. The suspense and mystery really killed me.

I found 'Burning' to be discomforting and haunting. It shows and doesn't tell, which makes you pay attention to little details. Along the way, Chang-Dong gives clues about why Ben is really interested in Hae-Mi (is he really?) I wondered about the tiny bits of phrase or looks on faces that on the first hearing and viewing may seem irrelevant, but from which I experienced an aha-erlebnis while I was biking home from the theatre.

For me personally, this movie is a true ten out of ten. I recommend you not to go to the film by yourself, but to have someone with you to discuss its details. If you want to understand everything, you'll have to think. Even then, your friend will probably have spotted the meaning of something you thought was strange. Lipstick, for example.

If you don't like these kind of films, that's okay. I guess it really is what I like about films, and I hope you will try to see what I saw.
107 out of 191 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
5/10
Nice, but slow and long, so bring some coffee with you.
huhabi14 October 2018
What I really liked about the movie was the psychological tension building up during the film. You keep wondering what happened and are just left with a few clues which could be interpretated in several ways. The film brings some suspense which reminded me of some Hitchcock movies from the past. There was also a big difference with Hitchcock though: whereas Hitchcock uses strong acting, imagery and sound to build up the tension, in Burning there are not much scenes which please the eye, it's just all so... normal as is the acting. Furthermore, the script is slow... with several scenes which leave you wondering why you had to witness this information at all. This resulted in several people snoring in the Cinema I saw this screening. In all honesty, the film breathes an atmosphere simalar to the books of Murakami, which in my opinion also tend to be more poetic and slow - certainly no page turners and neither is Burning. So if you really like the books of Murakami, this is the film for you I suppose. Overall experience: bit boring, intriguing, weird, not much to please the eye or ear, interesting storyling. Worth to see it? YES, but prepare for a long sit and bring some coffee to keep awake.
62 out of 110 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
2/10
Slow, pointless, boring
stekoshy11 February 2019
Warning: Spoilers
This movie was slow and extremely boring. It has decent performances, especially from Ben, but it doesn't fix this movies glacial pace at all. The protagonist looks like he has no idea what is happening 75% of the time, and the girl is so unrelatable. The plot is uninteresting and resolves in the most predictable way. Sure there's symbolism to be found in many places, but it's not worth watching the film to identify it.
43 out of 75 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Soft Glass
tedg7 May 2019
Young South Korean filmmakers have a layered vitality one doesn't find anywhere else. Filmmaking is all about mapping what we have as cinematic conveyance to what we yearn for internally. That's the game, the expected contract between filmmaker and viewer. We negotiate that as we go, sometimes being outside the story as normal interpreters, sometimes inside the story filling in bits.

One way to go about this is for the filmmaker to trick the viewer when in internal mode to make assumptions that are later revealed to shock. A common technique is to tantalize with some erotic vision - easily cinematic - and later lead us into reviling misogynistic exploitive behaviour.

More nuanced is mixing realities between what we invent from what we are shown and what an on-screen sometime narrator does. This is rich territory for filmmakers willing to go there, and I think the more we experiment, the greater our vocabulary will be.

We are tuned to have an in-story interpreter. Our main character is a writer, and we are pointed to some books with metaphors that cross into reality.

We see him in the longish first act conjure narrative reality from sexual fantasy. Later, he literally writes what we presumably see, while sitting in the girl's apartment but outfitted for himself. The sexual tryst is still in the smell of the place.

We see his love interest go well out of our way to present the importance of (pantomime) living richly in a created reality. We have her describe the 'great hunger' for revelation, encountered in dance she describes and later demonstrates, in her own encounter in Africa - a trip likely never taken.

We have questionable memories. Is she genuinely the person who lived in the neighborhood when they were children? Is the father overcome by past roles he cannot escape? Is the newly recovered mother genuine? What role does plastic surgery play, once we see the 'makeup' scene at the narratively frugal end?

The referenced Gatsby story to those of us interested in these things, is rich with mixed fantasies from the writer and narrator. All the real action here is in the context of broadcast propaganda; the MacGuffins are neglected glass houses in a context where houses matter, and may even (dimly) reference quantum realities.

We never know who is conspiring with whom, who is imaginary and what motives are to be trusted.

So the art here is in transporting us into this folded space where we get destabilized, but not so much we lose our engagement. That's a major accomplishment in itself. Few can do it and most are Asian.

But we want the investment to matter. I want a part of my soul turned inside out to challenge me by the evoked inner me. Possibly, this failure is because I did not pretend to fall in love with the girl. The seduction did not overlap beyond the two young men, possibly because of culture, age and suspicion.
15 out of 23 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
1/10
The only thing that is mindblowing for me is how on earth human being able to rate this movie 10/10
gundogan179 February 2019
Honestly, I tried my hardest to stay on watching this movie and realised I've wasted 2 1/2 hours of my precious time. My eyes and mind couldnt be lied. This movie not worth to watch and the people rated this movie so high maybe they thought they were mindblown by this movie which I couldn't understand how it happened to them (maybe they thought they are artistic enough like shakespere). But honestly, nothing. Just a dull, boring and slow korean movie.
66 out of 125 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
2/10
Not worth 2 hours and a half
brother279126 May 2019
The plot is not interesting enough for the lenght, after 1 hour or so you start checking your clock. It doesnt even have great cinematography. Had potential cause the caracters are interesting but it all ends meh. I dont recomended it
24 out of 41 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
1/10
The Emperor Has No Clothes
cookstevend14 September 2018
Warning: Spoilers
I know it's the 21st Century and all, but I think movies still have to have a narrative. Burning is like if there was a Hitchcock movie where you never learn what happened and why. It's a shaggy dog story that doesn't go anywhere. Just a series of events that aren't adequately explained. The actors were good, but wasted on a screenplay that is a mess. Shakespeare could leave us wondering about people's motivations, but regular writers and directors have to help us out. I saw Burning at TIFF, where I felt like smart people were supposed to say they liked it. But, if you're going to make people sit through a two-and-a-half-hour movie, there's got to be a payoff at the end. This one just leaves you scratching your head.
139 out of 289 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
1/10
What Did I just wast 2.5 hours watching?
Wee_Bay11 June 2019
Trash! Slow...Boring...Lacking an actual story (meaning beginning, middle and end)...The irrelevant sub stories...The boring characters...The lack of explainations. Actually, I was writing this with 4 mins left of the film. It just finished. Terrible ending. Ask me what this film is about, I would not be able to tell you. A complete waste of my time!
27 out of 48 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
1/10
Why all the high scores?
the_nephilim7117 February 2019
First off this 2.5 hour movie is about 2 hours too long. For the first hour of the movie, nothing and I mean NOTHING happens. It's all down-hill from there. This movie is overrated, pretentious, and nonsensical. Don't waste your time unless you like wasting 2.5 hours of your time.
22 out of 39 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
Burning Structures and Hearts
Raven-196923 September 2018
Sometimes you cannot see the things that are right before your eyes. Happy, healthy and gorgeous, Hae-mi changed a lot since Jong-su last described her as "really ugly." He falls for her, hard. At first Hae-mi accepts Jong-su's advances, but when she returns from a trip to Africa she has a boyfriend in tow. The new man is rich, attentive and handsome, but he appears to look right through Hae-mi. Relegated to third wheel, Jong-su struggles with feelings of jealousy and insecurity. Imagination and reality blur at the point when Hae-mi suddenly and mysteriously vanishes.

There are many kinds of violence and this thriller will get your mind racing about the many possibilities and motivations for it. At the center of the story is someone prone to believe and trust too easily. Lee Chang-dong last made a film eight years ago, and since then he meditated on this one. All that time has done him good. I felt I was a part of each scene and turn of events, from the pulse of a disco to burning structures and hearts. The film is long, but full of depth, interesting themes, great acting and pulse quickening excitement. North American premiere seen at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.
30 out of 56 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
1/10
What a bore
bliss663 February 2019
This is utterly tedious. For the bulk of the film you're just watching one man follow another man which is so completely contrived because the follower is driving an obvious farm utility vehicle and therefore completely conspicuous. If you're wondering whether you need to see this, give it a miss.
29 out of 55 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
One of the best films of the year.
jdesando4 December 2018
"To me, the world is a mystery." Jongsu (Ah-In Yoo))

The protagonist of Burning is a naïve young Korean, Jongsu, shuffling through a life that gets incrementally more interesting in each scene but not passionate until pushed by a lovely girl or a slippery enemy. Then it burns.

As the opening quote signifies, Jongsu is a naïve but romantic sort, inarticulate when he is in conversation but soulful through his eyes. Daily he can be seen either in Seoul or tending the family farm in the town of Paj. Director Chang-dong Lee slowly sets up the subtle class conflict with two other characters, the three of whom create a romantic triangle that provides the heat Lee incorporates into a central fire motif. His influence by Faulkner's Barn Burning is alluded to in the film as both works emphasize the uncertainty of finding peace in a world that attacks his family while the family contributes to the lack of peace.

Meeting a childhood friend, attractive and aggressive Haemi (Jong-seo Jeon) after 16 years turns Jongsu more sociable but still introverted. The real mystery is what she wants in a relationship because her new friend, slick and manipulative upper-middle-class Ben (Steven Yeun), is interested in her as well ("He's the Great Gatsby," Yongsu says). It is confusing for introvert Jongsu to deal with his lust for her and to figure out Ben's complex motives. Jongsu also envies the Ben's carefree wealth. The three hander takes off when the three are jousting.

Director Chang-dong Lee keeps the slim plot going frame by frame until we have some idea many frames later that this film may turn out to be a thriller.

Jongsu is in an existential state of uncertainty, where he receives stimuli but gives little in return except to the cow and Haemi's cat, Boil, which doesn't materialize any time soon. The trial of his farmer dad in court provides insight into Jongsu's troubled family life and the contrast to that of the rich, suave, carefree Ben.

Additionally, an unreality motif prevails where Haemi may be telling the truth or making it up, such as with the cat or her childhood trauma. At least in the first part of the story before we begin to see reality biting its way into inexperienced Jongsu's life.

The importance of this Korean jewel of a mystery lies not in the plot but rather the psychological miasma of youthful fears and exploration, where life is a mystery because he is experiencing it now, as if he were creating his own identity minute by minute, and as if there was no history but family ties and the inchoate desires of a young man. Burning is an exemplary international film that should receive an Oscar nod.
26 out of 49 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Fascinating and endlessly riveting
Red_Identity12 November 2018
I found this to be perhaps the most suspenseful film of the year so far. That suspense is not the usual type found in regular horror or thriller films, but it instead comes from the atmosphere and pacing of the film that hints at darker truths and ambiguities. Technically this is superbly done, with the cinematography and score standing out in particular. Although it's the lead actor who has to do all of the heavy lifting, it is Steven Yeun's performance that leaves the most impact. He's practically an enigma throughout the whole thing, and leaves so much open to interpretation and perception that it's not an easy role at all.
17 out of 30 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews


Recently Viewed