"BURNING" Starring Steven Yeun Is Mysterious, Morbid And Riveting To Watch
PLEASE NOTE: There may be spoilers in this review/post.
Last Friday, I had the opportunity to attend the #GoldOpen of Korean film “BURNING” (In Korean “BEONING”), starring STEVEN YEUN, who was also present at the #GoldOpen to be apart of the QandA after the screening. My initial impressions before watching the film was that I felt it would be interesting and deep ( if you are like me, and watch Asian mystery/dramatic/thriller films) you would know how deep and “twisted” Asian mysteries/thrillers can be. And I was interested to see how Yeun’s character would be developed and hear him speak Korean. All my expectations were met and before I provide some spoilers, I wanted to point out that I really enjoyed the film. Though, I think “Burning” is a film everyone needs to watch more than once, to catch the clues which were set out from the start.
But before, I provide my analysis on my thoughts after watching the film, here is the plot (via Asian Wiki):
Jong-Soo (Yoo Ah-In) wants to become a writer, but he currently works part-time as a delivery man for a distribution company. While on the job, he runs into his childhood friend Hae-Mi (Jeon Jong-Seo). They grew up in a small rural town. Later that night, they meet for drinks. Hae-Mi tells Jong-Soo that she will be traveling to Africa soon and asks if he can stop by her apartment and feed her cat while she is gone.
Later, Jong-Soo receives a phone call from Hae-Mi asking if he can pick her up at the airport the next day. At the airport, Hae-Mi introduces Ben (Steven Yeun) to Jong-Soo. Hae-Mi and Ben met while in Arica. Soon, Ben tells Jong-Soo about his hobby.
The film was actually based off short story “Naya wo Yaku” (“Barn Burning”) from short story collection “Hotaru” by Haruki Murakami (published July, 1984 by Shinchosha). And now, I am interested in reading the short story to see how it weighs against the film which was just so well made. The film will make you question about whether Yeun is a “good person” or whether he has some criminal demons within him. I felt Yeun was the perfect person to play the character “Ben”, and when you watch it, you will see a different side to Yeun’s acting repertoire, not just him speaking full Korean ( you would have seen some of that in Okja), but how he effectively presented audiences with a very complexly layered character, who really can’t be read all the way to the end.
The film also focuses a lot on relationships – there is the childhood budding romance/friendship between the main character Jong-Soo (Yoo Ah-In) and Hae-Mi (Jeon Jong-Seo), which also touches on sexual awakenings and “true” love. Then there is the relationship between Jong-Soo and Ben ( Yeun) – was it a friendship, competing interests, or arch enemies? And lastly the relationship between Ben and Hae-Mi – not much is revealed on that because it is shrouded in mystery, but I feel that was left intentional to keep imaginations running. One thing binds all these 3 characters and that is “loneliness” – Jong-Soo is experiencing a rut in life in terms of his family life and his personal life, Hae-Mi feels “unwanted” in this world and just dreams to be loved and to be free and “Ben”, who comes from the upper echelons of Korean society, has friends over at his place all the time for parties, but yet is distanced from them and from the day to day gossips and “friendship things”. He is lonely as a person but with high intellect. I love how director Lee Chang-Dong, was able to expand the definition of what it means to be lonely in 3 totally different ways.
All in all, I would definitely recommend this film to everyone, and the fact that Yeun has a starring role in it, is impetus that we all need to go out and support the film. I feel this has pushed Yeun’s acting into a different direction ( definitely polar opposite to his former character of Glenn Rhee on The Walking Dead), and that we will see more of Yeun in these type of roles. It also shows that us Asians in the West have opportunities to take up in the Asian film market, which as a whole is 10 times larger than Hollywood or Western film industry will ever be.
And lastly, in the spirit of YOMYOMF Blockbuster Showdowns, here is my score in terms of bananas – 4 out of 5 bananas – definitely worth a watch!