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 - 부산행 (Train to Busan)

Setting a Zombie film on a train (from Seoul to Busan) is a genius move, it’s a new spin on a genre which is swiftly becoming unoriginal. With such a setting the whole feeling of the film becomes claustrophobic and hectic seeing as there’s not much space to run and hide in a moving vehicle. Also considering the fact that the film is set on public transport most of the characters are unfamiliar with each other outside of the people they are travelling with, this then separates the good from the bad and we quickly warm to the strangers who band together and help each other out and we grow to hate the selfish characters (namely Kim Eui-sung‘s villain Yon-suk) that compromise everyone else’s safety for their own.

Having seen Gong Yoo in the fantastic drama Goblin I was very much aware of his proficiency as an actor but from watching Train to Busan I was yet again impressed as I didn’t expect the film to become so emotional. Gong Yoo’s Seok-Woo started the film off as a relatively unlikable guy, a divorced workaholic with very little time for his young child but through the trials of trying to survive a mass zombie apocalypse, he slowly becomes the hero that you root for. In a way his character development reminds me of Alan Grant’s in Jurassic Park (disliked the kids to begin with but became a hero and saved them and became a father figure to them in the end), he is a man who absolutely has no time for others and is put out by his own child in the beginning but by the end of it he has become somewhat of a model father to his daughter. It’s in creating this character juxtaposition that makes the journey you take with Seok-Woo all that more investing especially at the conclusion of the film.

However, I do have one criticism of the film and that is the particular sequence involving the tunnels and the darkness it creates as this was something that was used in Snowpeircer another Korean film. It was still a cool sequence but having seen it used before it didn’t make as much of an impact as it would have if it were an entirely new idea.

Overall I really enjoyed the film and I was pleasantly surprised that the film had such an emotional depth to it to the point that I actually cried at the end which is something I have never done when watching a Zombie film.