Burning reviews

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Re: Burning reviews

Postby Reza » Sun Mar 24, 2019 6:23 am

I lasted exactly 50 minutes into this film and throughout had a hard time staying awake. It gave me just as many thrills as Malick's "Days of Heaven".

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Re: Burning reviews

Postby Sabin » Thu Jan 03, 2019 1:09 am

The Original BJ wrote
There's a screening at the Egyptian in 2 weeks, FYI.

Just bought tickets. Thanks, dude!
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Re: Burning reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Tue Jan 01, 2019 7:56 pm

Sabin wrote:DAMMIT! It just left LA. The quest for screeners begins.


There's a screening at the Egyptian in 2 weeks, FYI.

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Re: Burning reviews - MAJOR SPOILERS

Postby Uri » Wed Dec 19, 2018 3:25 pm

Precious Doll wrote: One of things more striking about Chang-dong Lee's films, at least all of his films that I have seen, is the social commentary that is intertwined with the narrative. The divide between rich and poor, the divide between city and rural people, the South Korean obsession with appearance and plastic surgery (very common amongst young women), the connections with the North and their distrust and disdain for Christianity. Not all these themes are played out in every one of his films (no mention Christianity in Burning) but he uses these as tools to weave into the narrative drive.


Being a provincial farm boy myself, this town mouse country mouse dynamics was very prominent to me. Jong-su being fascinated and infatuated with everything Ben is while Ben is condescendingly toying with him - his story about looking for deserted greenhouses and burning them seems to me like he was making up the most far-fetched concoction to test Jong-su's gullibility. Once Jong-su get it shouldn't be taken as it is, he has two options - to interpret it as an an indication of something far more sinister or to be deeply humiliated for being duped. His actions at the end, whether real or imagined, can address both these realizations, and probably Jong-su keeps entertaining them simultaneously. And it all sit well with a sense of imminent paranoia someone who lives in this almost twilight zone near the border must have.

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Re: Burning reviews

Postby Sabin » Wed Dec 19, 2018 2:49 pm

DAMMIT! It just left LA. The quest for screeners begins.
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Re: Burning reviews - MAJOR SPOILERS

Postby Precious Doll » Wed Dec 19, 2018 12:04 am

SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT INCLUDING SPOILING THE ENDING OF THE MOVIE CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED

Thanks for starting the post BJ. Your post was really interesting reading and you can certainly sum up a film better than me.

Its over six months since I saw Burning and it remains my favourite film of the year to date. Your post reminded me of a couple of things I'd forgotten and a couple of things I either didn't notice or don't recall.

One particular point you brought up that never crossed my mind was that maybe the ending is really just a story Jongsu is writing. Whilst totally plausible it something that doesn't sit with me but it is worth noting that in Chang-dong Lee's Oasis (2002) which is a love story between a slightly retarded ex-con and a housebound young woman with severe cerebral palsy. In that film he takes her out, carries her onto a train. The scene than changes as one of them images that she is able bodied and they are able to interact with each other is a way not possible for them. So Lee has in the past, as least once that I recall, shown a shift narrative gear from an internal perspective.

I agree with most of the points you raise. Obviously the ending is something of a shock and I still don't know to what if any extent the Ben was involved in Have-mi's disappearance, if at all. The use of the cat is very playful and I love that it never provides anything but more questions. And I like that the film does that. Some mysteries never get solved and not all films should resolve and tie things up into a neat bow. Much like Picnic at Hanging Rock. Over 40 years later I still don't know what happened to those girls and their teacher and so it should be.

The casting of Steven Yuen is a brilliant accident. The actor that was to play the role backed out shortly before production and Yuen had meet the director and expressed his desire to work with him. He is a great choice because he feels slightly alien in the film and having grown up in the US may have something to do with that. Whereas, Ah-in Yoo is very provincial, crucial in a role of someone who has grown up in a rural area.

One of things more striking about Chang-dong Lee's films, at least all of his films that I have seen, is the social commentary that is intertwined with the narrative. The divide between rich and poor, the divide between city and rural people, the South Korean obsession with appearance and plastic surgery (very common amongst young women), the connections with the North and their distrust and disdain for Christianity. Not all these themes are played out in every one of his films (no mention Christianity in Burning) but he uses these as tools to weave into the narrative drive.

Social commentary is used widely by Korean directors in most of the films that are seen outside of Korea. It's interesting that the two countries whose national cinema has sparked great interest in the 21st century (Romania being the other) both do this.

I suspect this has to do with years of suppressive regimes in both countries. They have plenty of baggage.

I would really recommend tracking down a documentary film called Non-Fiction Diary (2013) directed by Yoon-suk Jung. I became aware of the documentary in 2013/2014 and got an opportunity to see it in 2014. The film really put the pieces together for me just why the South Koreans make some of the films they make be it Burning, Secret Sunshine, Mother, The Bacchus Lady, Train to Busan, Samaritan Girl, The Liar, Oasis, Snowpiercer, Lies, Memories of Murder, A Good Lawyer's Wife, etc as it outlines recent Korean events from the 1990s that have clearly effected the national psychic.

I have little doubt that Chang-dong Lee has added social commentary when adapting the source material of which I am not familiar with.

Non-Fiction Diary can be purchased online by the way. Its probably the only way to see the film I suspect:

https://www.yesasia.com/global/non-fict ... /info.html
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Re: Burning reviews

Postby Big Magilla » Tue Dec 18, 2018 5:23 pm

The simple explanation may be that it has a "lady or the tiger" ending, meaning that there's no right or wrong interpretation, you can give it whatever meaning you want. One thing, though, since this is an adaptation of a Japanese short story by Haruki Murakami, I would think the key to its meaning lies more in Japanese culture than Korean culture.

SPOILER ALERT: My initial interpretation was that Ben was an innocent and Jongsu was the Korean version of a Fox News conspiracy theorist who let his imagination get the better of him. I'm not sure if I'll see it the same way a second time.

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Burning reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Tue Dec 18, 2018 4:19 pm

Burning is a movie that feels almost impossible to discuss effectively without getting into spoiler territory, so I'm just going to warn everyone who hasn't seen it not to read any further until you've had a chance to see the movie.

SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT INCLUDING SPOILING THE ENDING OF THE MOVIE CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED

For the first half of Burning, I would say I was "intrigued" by the material more than I was necessarily "gripped" by it. I definitely wasn't bored, but I did find myself watching from a distance, wondering at what point the various characters and story elements were ever going to add up to something beyond what initially seemed like a rather aimless narrative. But then, in the second half of the movie, it rather remarkably reveals how so many seemingly insignificant story details were set-ups for narrative payoffs down the road. By the time the tragic conclusion arrived, I was fully invested emotionally in the story's outcome, and had a far greater appreciation for the careful groundwork the filmmakers had laid earlier on that built to this moment.

An obvious question, though, remains: what exactly IS the story the movie is telling? There is certainly a case to be made for interpreting the film in the most on-its-face manner as possible -- as a Suspicion-like thriller in which Jongsu gradually comes to believe that Ben murdered Haemi, and then gets his revenge. The audience is shown the same "clues" Jongsu is -- the panicked phone call, the cat, the bracelet -- that would lead him to believe that Ben was responsible for Haemi's disappearance/death. And in this reading, Ben's speech about burning greenhouses seems to be the coded admission of a serial killer about the ways in which he dispenses with women who society won't miss (i.e. lower-class, not that many friends). When Jongsu realizes that no greenhouses in the vicinity have been burned recently, he comes to believe that Ben wasn't literally referring to destroying greenhouses, but people.

However, the filmmakers take great pains to suggest that even though Jongsu seems pretty clear about what happened, there is a very possible chance his conclusion is WRONG. We never see the cat in Haemi's apartment, so there's really no way to know for sure if it's the same one Ben has now -- I think the moment when Jongsu calls out the cat's name, and it comes to him, is pretty perfectly directed, because it's not totally clear whether or not the cat is actually responding to Jongsu, or just heading in the direction of a random human. (There's also the fact that Ben wouldn't have known that Jongsu never saw Haemi's cat, so unless he really just wanted to taunt Jongsu, it doesn't seem likely he'd so blatantly lie about where the cat came from.) Furthermore, the film avoids giving us the most obvious details about Haemi's disappearance -- her body is never discovered, for instance, and her apartment is left very clean, suggesting she might have known she was going to disappear for a while. Even the bracelet in Ben's jewelry cabinet isn't some kind of smoking gun evidence of murder.

And then there's Ben's behavior when Jongsu calls him for the final meeting. If Ben did murder Haemi, it's possible he would show up to a meeting with Jongsu and Haemi (who he would have known couldn't be there, and therefore would have known Jongsu was on to him) in order to call Jongsu's bluff -- using "here I am, where's Haemi?" as an admission of innocence, and not thinking Jongsu was about to kill him. But it seems a lot more likely Ben would take a meeting like this if he genuinely thought Haemi was still alive. And of course, the movie doesn't have Ben reveal anything in the final moments to shatter the sense of ambiguity.

So if Ben didn't kill Haemi (and other women), what did happen? Well, one theory could be that he still does something else nefarious with them, like selling them into some kind of human trafficking situation (perhaps explaining the multiple trips to Africa, as well as his seemingly endless supply of money). But there's also the possibility that he's helping these women leave their down-and-out lives behind and become completely different people. At the opening of the movie, Jongsu doesn't recognize Haemi because she's had some work on her face done. She also has an interest in acting. Could these be clues to the fact that Haemi is planning to pretend to be someone she isn't? What if getting closer to Jongsu, and then cutting ties with him, is part of the final ritual where she abandons her old life en route to becoming a completely new person, Don Draper-style? (The moment where she holds the "orange" and tells Jongsu how she's learned to believe something is there that isn't feels like a crucial moment to understanding the movie, because that motif -- seeing something where it isn't really there -- reappears throughout the story, from the cat that never appears in her apartment, to the greenhouses that don't burn down, to maybe even Jongsu's belief in a murder that may not have occurred). The phone call is harder to square in this interpretation -- it feels like she'd just disappear without a panicked goodbye -- but gifting the cat to Ben makes sense (she'd want someone to take care of it, and he'd be the only one who knew where she went), as does the bracelet (shedding parts of her old life, particularly a gift from Jongsu).

And to really get out there on the fringes of interpretation, I think it's possible to wonder whether or not the final scene even takes place in reality at all. There's a moment near the end of the movie that doesn't make much sense when you're first watching it -- Jongsu sits down at his computer and starts typing. Later on, we learn that this was him contacting Ben to arrange the meeting before he kills him. But Jongsu is a writer -- what if when he sits down at the computer to type, he's actually writing a story? Perhaps writing the ending to his own story, one where he carries out the act he's too afraid to do in real life -- killing Ben for murdering Haemi? What if the final moments of the movie are intended to be a depiction of that story, not something that actually occurs?

Ultimately, I don't think the film wants us to have a crystal clear grasp on what happened to Haemi, and whether or not Ben was responsible. What's important is that Jongsu's belief is clear -- and his clarity in a scenario with questionable evidence has a lot to do with his own passion for Haemi (a burning desire, if you will) and his jealousy toward Ben rather than a mature reaction to the facts on the ground.

A few other scattered thoughts:

The scene where Ben is shown putting makeup on his next girl is interesting because it's one of the few moments that takes us away from Jongsu's perspective. Is this some sort of embalming ritual where Ben glams up his victims before killing them? (I've since learned that "makeup" and "cremation" are spelled the same in Korean, which is very interesting in this context). Or is this a more benign version of a sort of Pygmalion-style transformation that Ben helps women attain before they disappear into their new lives?

I don't have enough knowledge of Korean culture to speak authoritatively on the significance of the fact that Jongsu is a South Korean who lives right by the DMZ, and listens to North Korean propaganda, but that feels like it has some culturally relevant importance. Maybe someone with more knowledge on the topic can speak to that.

I'm not sure what to make of the story about the well that Haemi tells Jongsu that he doesn't remember, which occupies quite a bit of real estate in the story. It generally seems to tie in with some of the film's ideas -- something there that might not be, Jongsu's need to rescue Haemi, Haemi possibly toying with Jongsu -- but I don't really have a great interpretation for how it exactly clicks with the larger narrative.

Anyway, I'm very curious to hear other people's readings on the movie and possible interpretations, since it seems like the kind of film where you could graft a lot of different takes onto it and none of them feel like they'd be totally wrong. I sort of feel like I'm just starting to sort out my reaction myself.


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