Burning is a 2018 South Korean mystery-suspense drama directed by Lee Chan-Dong who is also a screenwriter and novelist. It is the first film directed by Lee in eight years. Lee is best known for his films Oasis, Secret Sunshine and Poetry. Lee has won Special Director’s Award at the 2002 Venice Film Festival and the Best Screenplay Award at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. Lee served as South Korea’s Minister of Culture and Tourism from 2003-2004.
Burning stars Korean superstar Yoo Ah-in, newcomer Jeon Jong-seo and Korean-American actor Steven Yeun who is famous for The Walking Dead. The film is ased on the short story ‘Barn Burning’ by Haruki Murakami. It was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and received the FIPRESCI award. It was also selected as the South Korean entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 75th Golden Globe Awards and at the 91st Academy Awards.
Recently I met Lee in LA. He said “I don’t think too much about (an) Oscar nomination, but I hope our expectations will soon be achieved. I will try my best for that goal." He added, “I hope Burning will be a milestone for the next Korean films' nominations.”
Burning is a love triangule story and a deep and intimate look at the gap between the rich and poor. It also deals with the elusive dreams of a young man and frustration, jealousy, anger, revenge. It is a typical Korean young generation’s story but is also very universal.
Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) is a delivery man who wants to be a writer. He lives in Paju, a suburban city near the Korean DMZ. Thus this movie also deals with the current political undercurrents on the Korean peninsula. One day he comes across Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), a childhood classmate whom he does not remember at first. They immediately become lovers and have sex. She tells him about her plan to travel to Africa and asks him to feed her cat while she is away. Soon she leaves for Africa. But where is the cat? A few weeks later Hae-mi returns and introduces Ben (Steven Yeun), whom she met in Kenya. Ben is a Porsche-driving guy whose background is mysterious. He also treats Jong-su condescendingly and Jong-su feels a sort of inferiority complex.
Sometime thereafter, Jong-su, Hae-mi and Ben gather at Jong-su’s house and Ben confesses a strange hobby to Jong-su. He likes to burn an abandoned greenhouse. After this gathering, Hae-mi just suddenly disappears from the story. So Jong-su confronts Ben and Ben states that Hae-mi hasn’t answered any of his calls either. Jong-su meets Ben’s new girlfriend and finds Hae-mi’s watch and a cat which he suspects is hers. It is at that point that Jong-su surmises that Ben may have murdered Hae-mi, realizing that Ben doesn’t burn greenhouses, but uses it as a metaphor for killing expendable people. The story ultimately leads to a predictably violent epilogue.
In October 2016, at the Busan International Film Festival, Lee said, “It is a story about young people in today’s world. When they think of their lives and the world, it must feel like a mystery”.