Top 100 Films Of The 2010’s – #56 – Burning (2018)

RELEASED: 1st February 2019

DIRECTOR: Lee Chang-dong

CAST: Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, Jeon Jong-seo, Kim Soo-Kyung, Choi Seung-ho, Moon Sung-keun, Min Bok-gi, Ban Hye-ra and Lee Bong-ryun




Jong-su bumps into a girl who used to live in the same neighborhood, who asks him to look after her cat while she’s on a trip to Africa. When back, she introduces Ben, a mysterious guy she met there, who confesses his secret hobby.


Burning tells the story of three individuals and a mysterious incident they experience. Jong-su bumps into an old friend, Hae-mi, on a part-time delivery job. Hae-mi asks Jong-su to take care of her cat while she leaves on a trip to Africa. When she returns, Hae-mi introduces Jong-su to Ben, a man she met in Africa. One day, Ben and Hae-mi pay Jong-su a visit, and Ben reveals his secret interests to Jong-su.


Burning is the latest mystery drama from Lee Chang-dong, focusing on three individuals that know each other, but don’t really know each other, and when one suddenly disappears without a trace, one begins to suspect that the other is behind it. From the films opening act having Shin Hae-mi explaining the Kalahari Bushmen dance of Little Hunger and Great Hunger, we follow her, Lee Jong-su and Ben’s having their own ‘hunger’ to fulfil. When Jong-su confesses of a personal moment in his past in which he had to burn his mothers clothes in his backyard, Ben confesses to the unusual hobby of burning greenhouses. From there the film takes a psychological turn as Jong-su tries to discover what happened to Hae-mi, as well as work out who Ben really is. Chang-dong’s direction is terrific here, as every scene is so meticulously crafted and every shot feels deliberately placed that the film garners more viewings to pick up different interpretations of particular conversations and facial expressions of certain characters. The cinematography from Kyung-pyo Hong is also terrific here, particularly in how he captures the natural light within Hae-mi’s room as well as the landscapes surrounding Jong-su’s home. The film also looks at the social class divide between the rich and the poor, with Jong-su telling Hae-mi when there at Ben’s home that there’s ‘Too many Gatsby’s’ in Korea, how he sees them being uncomfortable when Hae-mi’s doing the ‘hunger’ dance to which he also catches Ben yawning. Then there’s the important experience of Hae-mi’s childhood that Jong-su can’t remember but, did it really happen? You Ah-in is terrific as Jong-su, a timid country boy who wants to be a writer but he has a sense of naivety that’s almost begging for someone to exploit and toy with his emotions. He’s in love with Hae-mi but too scared to tell her so and once Ben arrives on the scene, he almost seamlessly gives up putting up any sort of a fight for her, accepting what he’s already determined…that she’s way out of his league. Jeon Gong-seo gives a really good performance as Hae-mi, a young-free spirited woman that’s secretly yearning for Jong-su’s love and acceptance. The big draw from the film however is Steven Yeun’s performance as Ben, a blank canvas of emotion, whose every expression and line of dialogue feels calculated and when he looks at someone, there’s a distinct cold feeling of being in his company. Yeun is excellent in the role.


FAVOURITE SCENE: As Lee Jong-su, Shin Hae-mi and Ben sit on the porch watching the sunset on the horizon, Ben heads to his car and turns on the radio. With Miles Davis blaring out from the car, Shin gets up and begins a contemporary dance to the music, transcending into the dance of the Great Hunger. It’s a well shot sequence, the cinematography is beautiful and anytime I think of the film, this scene is what pops into my mind immediately.

FAVOURITE QUOTE: “Do you know Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert, Africa It is said that Bushmen have two types of hungry people. Hungry English is hunger, Little hunger and great hunger. Little hunger people are physically hungry, The great hunger is a person who is hungry for survival. Why do we live, What is the significance of living? People who are always looking for these answers. This kind of person is really hungry, They called the great hunger.” – Shin Hae-mi 

DID YOU KNOW: Paju, the hometown of Jong-su, is famous for its fog. According to cinematographer Kyung-pyo Hong, there were many foggy scenes at dawn, but some were deleted because they came out so beautifully. Many of the scenes where Jong-su runs to search greenhouses at dawn were also deleted because the foggy landscapes were too beautifully shown.

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