Cambridge Film Festival – ‘Burning’ Review

Last week we were lucky enough to attend the Cambridge Film Festival and got the privilege of watching Burning – A Korean film with subtitles.

The film follows Jong-soo (Yoo Ah-In) who is a working class man from the countryside in Korea. When working an odd job, he runs into Hae-mi (Jeon Jon-Seo) who used to live in his neighbourhood, when the pair were children. She asks him to look after her cat whilst she takes a trip to Africa (which Jong-Soo thinks is imaginary). She returns a couple of weeks later with a new friend Ben (Steven Yeun), who she quickly becomes close with, causing Jong-Soo to become jealous.

Let us start by telling you this… this film is long, you will lose interest and then wish you hadn’t. Burning is – pardon the pun – a slow burner! The first hour and a half is, to put it frank, quite boring, but it turns out to be vital to the plot, once you understand what is happening.

Neither of us knew anything about this film, and to be honest, we were only interested because of Steven Yeun. We hadn’t even seen the trailer, so we really did have no idea what this film was about, just that two people had recommended it to us, one even telling us “best film of the year”. Burning managed to exceed expectations we didn’t have, we don’t know how that works but it does.

Turns out, the film was a Drama/Mystery, with clues and scenes that all make sense once you finish the film. Which is why your dozing off in the first half will come back to bite you!

Many shots lingered way longer than they needed to, and an almost silent sex scene had us giving each other awkward looks and cringing at the deep intimacy being showed through close ups of Jong-soo’s sex face. (Cringing now just thinking about it)

This film is 100% polysemic, and you come away with a million different theories and ideas about the film, especially when you think back to them earlier scenes (Told you not watching will bite you in the ass). Some theories online suggest that the film can be politically analysed through the tension of the social classes, between the rich and the poor. But, since we do not have knowledge of the class system in Korea, we didn’t interpret it that way

BE WARNED… FROM HERE ON OUT THERE WILL BE SPOILERS! STOP READING NOW.

The film gets interesting when Hae-mi goes missing after spending a night with Ben and Jong-Soo at Jong-Soo’s house, which is when Ben confesses to Jong-Soo that he likes to burn down greenhouses and admits that he is planning to burn down a greenhouse “very close” to Jong-soo. Once Jong-Soo discovers Haemi is missing, he goes on a mad hunt to find her and discovers how dodgy Ben really is. Jong-Soo decides that Ben has taken her and perhaps killed her (the evidence suggesting this is strong), he meets up with Ben and ends up brutally stabbing him, before setting fire to his car with the dead body in. And to be honest, we’re not happy about it because:

  1. We will never find out what happened to Hae-mi because the number one suspect is now dead
  2. The almost innocent Jong-soo is now a murderer.
  3. IT WAS TOO SOON TO SEE HIM DIE AGAIN ON MY SCREEN? REALLY YOU WANT ME TO WATCH HIM GET BRUTALLY MURDERED AGAIN! RIP GLENN, ALWAYS IN OUR HEART.

Amy came away believing that Ben was a serial killer, using greenhouses as a metaphor for women, and him burning down the greenhouses is really him killing women. This theory is reinforced through his sociopathic tendencies of not being able to cry as well as keeping ‘trophies’ of his ‘victims’, such as their jewellery, in a draw in his bathroom.

Jess however thought he was grooming the girls (we assume there are more than one), to be coming prostitutes or escorts. He kept their jewellery and we see him doing make up on one of the girls, which he could be doing before delivering them to the men.

There is so much you can take away from this film, so much to think about and discuss that it’ll be on your mind for days after. Unfortunately, this film doesn’t look like it is available anywhere in the UK or will be available anytime soon.

Watch the trailer below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oihHs2Errwk

Written By: Jess Weal and Amy Williams