Korean Cinema – 버닝 (Burning)

Burning is a taut and thrilling adaptation of one of Murakami’s most intriguing short stories, Barn Burning.

Of course Burning is not a literal retelling of Murakami’s story, it has been tweaked and reworked seeing as it is only a 20 page story and the film is over 2 hours long. These tweaks work so well and contribute to a study of Korean society that feels raw and rather brutal. It’s a classic example of class division, of the psychological harm that jealousy incurs and perhaps obsession.

Burning follows a young man called Jong-su, he works several part time jobs in a struggle to survive in Seoul, one day he meets Hae-mi, an old acquaintance from his hometown and they start seeing each other. Hae-mi goes travelling to Africa and asks Jong-su to look after her cat even though he has just moved back to his family farm in Paju. Jong-su performs his task diligently without ever encountering the cat. When Hae-mi returns from Africa she is accompanied by Ben a young successful man. And thus the tension begins between the two males.

Having Jong-su and Hae-mi come from simple means the sudden appearance of Ben a metropolitan man who drives a Porsche and lives in Gangnam is rather jarring and as an audience we never warm to his character. And he only gets more and more suspicious in his smugness and rather disturbing collection in his bathroom and the revelation that he likes to burn greenhouses. Abandoned greenhouses that take less than 10 minutes to completely disappear. At this point you start to think that he is just a rich boy on a power trip, later however when Hae-mi goes missing it becomes apparent that burning greenhouses is just a metaphor for something far more nefarious…or is it?

That’s the best thing about Lee’s direction, we are never really told anything concrete. Can we completely trust Jong-su, is he not just completely overcome with jealousy, Ben seems to have everything, success, fast cars, a beautiful apartment and a loving family. Is Jong-su imagining the scenario or is Ben really a psychopathic murderer of Women?

It’s a shame that Burning didn’t make it into the nominations for best foreign film for the Academy Awards this year as this is a masterfully conducted thriller. The acting especially by Yoo Ah-in and Steven Yeun is electrifying, they fit so well into their respective roles. The soundtrack heightens tension terrifically and the cinematography feels at moments whimsical and then all of a sudden concise and rigid.

Let me know in the comments section what you thought of the film.

Korean Cinema – 누구의 딸도 아닌 해원 (Nobody’s Daughter Haewon)

Poignant, thought provoking and subtly charming. Hong Sang-soo blends reality and whimsy in this snapshot of life.

Haewon is a young woman still trying to find her place in the world when she finds herself abandoned by her mother who has suddenly decided to emigrate to Canada. And to make matters worse soon after her affair with a melancholy married professor comes to light, she is thus ostracised by her classmates and feels utterly alone. 

I loved the simple direction in this film which made it feel really real, like I was simply observing a moment in someone else’s life. This effect was also helped by the natural and conversational dialogue and the lack of a soundtrack (except for a key recurring song). This style of filmmaking is to me simply wonderful, it’s perhaps the closest you can get to reading a book which makes it an utterly charming experience to watch.

Another key factor that makes Nobody’s daughter Haewon such an interesting watch is the abundance of recurring motives throughout the film. And for the sake of not spoiling what that alludes to I’m just going to leave it there. So if you haven’t watched the film yet keep your eyes peeled for them and if you have seen this indie gem then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

IMG_5911.jpg

You can catch this film and 5 more of Hong Sang-soo’s films as part of the Mubi “selectrospective” of the prolific directors filmography titled Solving Puzzles: The Cinema of Hong Sang-soo. If you don’t want to miss this movie Mubi works is a little different to Netflix or other online streaming platforms so you do have to watch the films within 30 days before they disappear from the library making way for new content!

P.S. I have started a little film club over on Instagram on my Film Account so if you fancy joining head over there and get involved!!! This film was my first pick as I was super excited to find out about Mubi showcasing Hong Sang-soo’s work as most of his films have never been released here in the UK!!

The Best Films of 2018

Here is a countdown of The Best Films (IMO, you may think differently) that came out last year. In no particular order they are as follows:

THE SHAPE OF WATER 

Guillermo del Toro’s latest film is a revelation, it’s beautiful, and it harks back to a golden age of cinema. The love story is bizarre but completely heartwarming and feels very much like an adult fairy tale. Sally Hawkins plays Eliza stunningly and if it wasn’t for Frances McDormand’s equally phenomenal performance in Three Billboards (which is also on this list) I’m pretty sure she would have got the Academy Award for Best Actress.  

암수살인 (DARK FIGURE OF CRIME)

This year I finally got a chance to attend LEAFF (the London East Asia Film Festival) and what a film to watch. Dark Figure of Crime is a crime thriller subverted, we know the killer from the beginning, the suspense of the film is from Detective Kim Hyung-min’s challenge of finding evidence for all of Kang Tae-oh’s murders so that he can be kept in prison for life. 

Kim Yoon-seok and Ju Ji-hoon are spectacular as there respective characters and director Kim Tae-kyun expertly paces the film for maximum effect. Also, another factor that made my watching of this film even more spectacular  was the fact that LEAFF hosted a Q&A with th director and main actor of the film! 

ZIMNA WOJNA (COLD WAR)

A beautiful and heart-wrenching romance set in a time of political upheaval. Joanna Kulig is a revelation as Zula, the cinematography is stunning and the story of two star-crossed lovers is fascinating and devastating. This masterpiece is available to watch on Curzon Home Cinema here in the UK.

CRAZY RICH ASIANS 

One of the best Rom-Com’s that come to mind in recent years, Crazy Rich Asians is big and flashy in its presentation but at its core, there is an uplifting romance. Let’s talk about the cast, can you really believe that this is a groundbreaking movie in the fact that it’s the first film in 25 years that has had an all Asian cast! Alarming. This year Crazy Rich Asians (and Black Panther) have proved that a lack of diversity is no longer permissible in Hollywood, the world is diverse so we want our movies to be diverse too.

ANNIHILATION

Daring and oh so very disturbing, this film is a modern sci-fi masterpiece. Annihilation follows a group of women who go on an expedition into a biological anomaly, it is both Sci-Fi and Horror along the lines of Alien. A must watch which is on Netflix.

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri sounds like it should be a really boring movie about not much at all. But it is quite the opposite. McDormand’s protagonist Mildred is one of the most fascinating and hilarious characters I’ve seen in a film for quite a while. Her brutal honesty and vulgar language are really quite funny but underneath the bravado lies a woman profoundly broken.

I tried to find ten movies but I think I’ll settle with six. There are loads more movies that I really enjoyed and quite a few that I haven’t gotten around to watching just yet (Roma & The House that Jack Built) and there are quite a few international films like Burning and Shoplifters which have not come out in England yet, and I’m pretty sure they would have made the list (and will most probably make the 2019 list)

Let me know in the comments section what your Best Movies of 2018 list looks like!

Korean Cinema – 올드보이 (Oldboy)

Park Chan Wook’s most famous film Oldboy is an epic tale of revenge, it was adapted from the Japanese manga of the same name. The film follows a man imprisoned for 15 years until he is released seemingly unexpectedly one day and his path to vengeance.

Park Chan Wook is a very visual director, his films are so immersive and beautifully shot. In Oldboy, the juxtaposition of ultra-violence with smaller more tender moments makes the film a rather emotional affair. It’s a movie not for the faint-hearted as the violence is rather graphic and the shock Oedipal twist is rather demented.

Park himself hinted that he was very much inspired by Sophocles’ tragedy Oedipus Rex. He gave his protagonist the name Oh Dae-su to be evocative of the incestuous King and elevated antagonist Woo-jin through a rather striking and preternatural yoga pose which was designed to represent Apollo, the god that gave Oedipus the prophecy. Moreover, the fact that Woo-jin guided most of the events in the film and lived in a swanky high tech penthouse (a metaphor for Olympus) only furthered that image of Godlike power over Dae-su the lowly mortal man unable to fight against the guiding hand of fate. It’s rather intriguing to view the film as a modern take on the Greek Tragedy as it adds a whole layer of meaning to the already complex and intriguing storyline.

Park Chan Wook is undeniably one of the greatest filmmakers in modern cinema whose work only goes from strength to strength. I am currently working my way through his filmography, so far I have seen (in order) Stoker, I’m a Cyborg but that’s OK, The Handmaiden, Thirst and now Oldboy. Chan Wook’s trademark violence, lush cinematography and wit really is an intriguing combination that’s hard to find elsewhere in Cinema.