DMovies - Your platform for thought-provoking cinema

Burning (Beoning)

Director - Lee Chang Dong - 2018

"Filthy genius movie"
Korean director borrows filmic devices from Hitchcock, crafting breathtaking sequences with rigorous handheld camerawork; Ben Flanagan describes it as "film of the year" - from the Cambridge Film Festival

What do we burn for? Is the question at the heart of Lee Chang Dong’s latest, an extended masterpiece that meditates on the transience of identity, voyeurism, and a changing South Korea. But the Hitchcock of it all, might come as a surprise.

Yoo Ah-in plays Lee, an aspiring writer who begins a fling with a Shin (Jeon Jong-seo), a girl he once bullied in high school. He soon moves out of Seoul and back to his father’s farm, where propaganda alerts from Pyongyang echo from across the border. In a nation that, Dong suggests, increasingly revolves around city life, his family duty has him tethered to a liminal Korean zone.

When Shin returns from a trip to Africa to awaken her ‘Great Hunger’, it’s with a new man in town, and that’s where Dong lights a stick of dynamite that takes two hours to go off. Soon we realise that Lee’s obsession with Shin has become irrevocably linked with her new squeeze, Ben, a wealthy yuppie who espouses Übermensch philosophy and cooks pasta while listening to Jazz (this is based on a Murakami story, after all).

For a long time, Burning resides in Shadow of A Doubt (Alfred Hitchcock, 1943) territory, as we contemplate Yuen’s guilt in a crime that may or may not have taken place. In fact, the “wrong man” theme is recurring in Hitchcock’s films.. Casting Steven Yeun (from the television series The Walking Dead) as a man who has seemingly rejected Eastern ideals in favour of a western-capitalist version of himself is a stroke of genius. The Korean-American actor gives a brilliant, balanced performance, playing him straight down the middle.

But then Burning veers into a detour that’s all Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958), as Lee’s busted pick-up truck tails Ben’s sports car. It is one of the most breathtaking sequences of the year. When we think of the Hollywood directors that return again and again to Hitchcock, like De Palma or Verhoeven, they often take the technical bravado as a way of entering their characters’ psychology. Dong approaches that psychology straight on, through rigorous handheld camerawork that wouldn’t be out of place in more social realist dramas. But that’s how he sneaks this rising tension up on you.

Burning doesn’t just explore his characters’ desires, it manages to make them stand in for a search for a new Korean identity. Small elements, like the way each character holds a cigarette, or the interrogatory looks that the trio share, almost seem to provide an answer. But then its gone.

This use of symbols might prove problematic, particularly in regards to Shin, who’s character mostly serves to drive the men on either side of her to further extremes, without much of an arc of her own. But equally, this seems to be the point. As she dissolves from the plot, we realise that this tussle of masculinity is about no-one but the self. It’s a primal fight over ego, knotted in 21st century anxiety. And by the time Dong has finished fanning the flames, each element has a remarkable, haunting clarity.

Burning shows as part of the 62nd BFI London Film Festival and also the Cambridge Film Fest.



"Filthy genius movie"

By Ben Flanagan - 21-10-2018

By Ben Flanagan - 21-10-2018

Ben’s a Bristol-based critic and podcaster who’s trying to watch and read everything, possib...

DMovies Poll

Are the Oscars dirty enough for DMovies?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Most Read

Just a few years back, finding a film [Read More...]
Pigs might fly. And so Brexit might happen. [Read More...]
Another year has gone by, and DMovies is [Read More...]
Will is an English guy handcuffed to a [Read More...]
François Ozon probably doesn’t get much sleep. At [Read More...]
A lot of British people would rather forget [Read More...]

Read More

The Remnants (Gong-Dong-Jeong-Beom)

Kim Il-rhan/ Lee Hyuk-sang
2016

Jeremy Clarke - 05-11-2017

Revisiting the Korean towering inferno: follow-up doc to Two Doors, has survivors of the Yongsan tragedy released from prison to tell their side of the story and grapple with the resulting emotional and psychological problems – from the London Korean Film Festival [Read More...]

Little Forest (Liteul Poreseuteu)

Yim Soon-Rye
2018

Jeremy Clarke - 15-10-2018

The passing of the seasons. A young woman finds her true self in the Korean countryside in this adaptation of a Japanese manga; the outcome is dirtylicious and it will make you drool, for more reasons than one - from the BFI London Film Festival and the London Korean Film Festival (LKFF) [Read More...]

Two Doors (Du Gae-Ui Mun)

Kim Il-rhan, Hong Ji-you
2011

Jeremy Clarke - 05-11-2017

Is this the Korean Grenfell Tower? Threatened eviction, SWAT, lethal building fire: compelling documentary about the Yongsan tragedy in which a police raid on a group of housing protesters went horribly wrong – from the London Korean Film Festival [Read More...]

Facebook Comment

Website Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *