"Although Burning (which draws inspiration from a Murakami short story) had a showing at the Travelling Film Festival, it wouldn’t have felt right not to screen it at the Deckchair too, given its level of acclaim. Be warned – it is a slow burn (sorry!). South Korean director Chang Dong Lee started his career as a writer, and uses repetition and gradual shifts in detail as tools for developing the story. Your patience will be amply rewarded, however, as the film builds to a fascinating conclusion that you will find yourself debating with your companions on the way home.
Jongsu is from a poor rural background, and dreams of being a writer as he ekes out a living in Seoul. His life is transformed when he bumps into Haemi, a young woman he knew from his hometown. They start a relationship of sorts, and the smitten Jongsu agrees to look after Haemi’s cat while she goes on holiday. On her return she is accompanied by a new acquaintance, Ben; a handsome and charismatic member of South Korea’s wealthy elite. Jongsu is jealous of Ben – both his hold over Haemi and his wealth - and is also suspicious of him. Are these misgivings just a symptom of his resentment, or are they triggered by something deeper? Like the existence of Haemi’s never-glimpsed cat, therein lies a mystery.
Burning could be described as a psychological thriller, but it also has strong elements of film noir in its tale of two contrasting men involved with a spirited but vulnerable woman. It is also a deeply political film which tells a fascinating tale about class. Ben is described by Jongsu as a ‘Gatsby’; and it is not difficult to draw parallels between Jongsu and Nick Carraway, the aspiring writer who narrates Fitzgerald’s tale and who is both attracted and repulsed by Gatsby and the circle of New York society which he inhabits. The film draws a sobering picture of breakneck capitalism’s winners and losers, in a country where - from Jongsu’s decrepit childhood home - you can hear North Korean propaganda blasting over loudspeakers on the evening breeze.
The three lead performances are terrific. Ah-in Yoo (Jongsu) is one of South Korea’s most acclaimed actors, while Jong-seo Jun (Haemi) is a talented newcomer. American-Korean actor Steven Yuen (star of smash hit tv series The Walking Dead) arguably steals the show, however, with his performance as the enigmatic Ben.
I am reliably informed that Burning has even more to offer on a second viewing, and cannot wait to find out! Whether it is a first look or a re-watch, we hope to see you at this intriguing film."
- Liz Keith, Deckchair Programming Committee
Based on a story by Haruki Murakami, Korean master Lee Chang-dong’s remarkable new thriller BURNING was the most acclaimed film of Cannes, setting a record for the highest-ever score achieved in the 18-year history of Screen International’s prestigious critics’ poll. Novelistic in scope, grandeur and impact, and featuring three brilliant performances, it’s a gripping psychological study of thwarted love, ambition and obsession.
While working as a courier in Seoul, aspiring young writer Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) encounters the lively Hae-mi (Jun Jong-seo), a childhood friend from his hometown. The two spend the day together, and when Hae-mi asks him to feed her cat while she’s away on a trip to Africa, Jong-su is convinced of a burgeoning romantic relationship. But on her return, when he arrives at the airport to collect her in his run-down truck, Jong-su is surprised and confused to find Hae-mi accompanied by the handsome, Gatsby-esque Ben (a superbly enigmatic Steven Yeun, Okja, The Walking Dead). The three begin an awkward friendship, with Jong-su’s feelings for Hae-mi growing ever stronger, even if it’s apparent she has fallen under the spell of his rich and mysterious rival’s charms.
Suddenly, after Ben makes a strange confession, Jong-su is led to question his motivations and he sets off on an increasingly desperate search to uncover the truth, even if the line between reality and imagination begins to blur.
Anchored by a peerless cast, exquisite pacing and a pulsating original score by Mowg, Lee’s masterful film creates a tantalising mood of uncertainty and complexity, with the story’s themes of class, family, rage and lust rising feverishly to the surface. Teasing and noirish, BURNING is an impossible-to-forget big screen experience, and the best film yet from one of world cinema’s most internationally celebrated auteurs