Sunday, August 28, 2022

Burning (2018 film)


Based on the short story Barn Burning by Haruki Murakami, Beoning (Burning) is the story of a young deliveryman who reunites with an old childhood friend where they later meet another young man who raises suspicion among the two. Directed by Lee Chang-dong and screenplay by Chang-dong and Oh Jung-mi, the film is an exploration of a man who finds himself in trouble with this person he doesn’t know while becoming protective of his old friend. Starring Yoo Ah-In, Jeon Jong-seo, and Steven Yeun. Beoning is a gripping and ravishing film from Lee Chang-dong.

The film is about a deliveryman from a rural small town in South Korea where he reconnects with a childhood neighbor as she asks him to watch a cat where she takes a trip to Africa where she meets a rich young man who raises some suspicion into his secret activities. It is a film with a unique premise as it is more about a man who lives at rural area with a farm that is nearly neglected while he works delivering things where he meets a young woman who used to be his neighbor as they rekindle their friendship. The film’s screenplay by Lee Chang-dong and Oh Jung-mi has its main protagonist in Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-In) who lives in a rural farmland area near Paju near the North-South Korean border where he meets Shin Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo) who is working as a dancer for a raffle where Jong-su wins a watch that is for girls. The two reacquaint themselves with Hae-mi set to go on a trip to Africa as Jong-su falls for her where he takes care of her cat even though he never sees the cat.

When Jong-su picks up Hae-mi from the airport, she is joined by a man named Ben (Steven Yeun) who is rich and later takes them to clubs, posh restaurants, and such where Jong-su is confused by Ben and his friendly demeanor. Even as it does play into this social difference as Jong-su living near a farm and Hae-mi living in a tiny apartment while Ben lives in a posh apartment. There is also a subplot in which Jong-su is dealing with the fact that his father (Choi Seung-ho) is in trial over an assault case as Jong-su is going through money problems with a failing farm as it is a big difference to the fact that Ben has it all yet confesses to Jong-su that he burns greenhouses in rural areas that only raises more suspicion for Jong-su who would notice something isn’t right as it relates to Ben.

Chang-dong’s direction is definitely mesmerizing in terms of its approach to long shots as well as its emphasis on simplicity. Shot largely on location in areas in Paju near the border between North and South Korea as the city is based on the latter. The film does play into this world where there is this social disparity of sorts in where both Jong-su and Hae-mi live in as the first shot of the film is a near two-minute tracking shot of Jong-su carrying some things for a store as he walks into the store but the camera only stops at the entrance to introduce Hae-mi who is dancing to some music with another girl holding a microphone. It’s among some of the intricate shooting that Chang-dong would create as he also uses some unique wide and medium shots of the city but also the rural farm area that Jong-su lives in that features loudspeaker audio from afar from North Korea spouting propaganda. Chang-dong does play into this reality that Hae-mi and Jong-su are definitely a part of as they struggle to make money with the latter also dealing with his father going to jail as he tries to get others in his community to sign a petition in the hope he gets a lighter sentence.

Chang-dong does use some close-ups for a few intimate moments including a sex scene in the first act between Hae-mi and Jong-su while the conversation at Jong-su’s home with him and Ben is a key moment that leads to the film’s second act as it also include a flashback of a young Jong-su watching a greenhouse burst into flames. The film then shifts in tone but in a slow manner as it play into Jong-su trying to figure out who Ben is but also about a greenhouse nearby that was supposedly burned. Chang-dong’s direction also feature these intricate scenes of Jong-su following Ben’s car as it also play into this sharp social contrast where Ben’s car is something a rich person would buy while Jong-su is driving a white truck that has been through a lot of years. Its third act isn’t just about Ben’s own lifestyle and how he’s able to have this charmed life but also this social disparity that allows him to do whatever he wants with Jong-su being used. Overall, Chang-dong crafts a provocative and rapturous film about a deliveryman and a young woman who befriend a charming rich man unaware of his dark secrets.

Cinematographer Hong Kyung-po does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with its naturalistic approach to some of the exterior scenes set in the morning and evening as well as an interior scene at Hae-mi’s apartment where the sunlight is a key factor. Editors Kim Hyeon and Kim Da-won do excellent work with the editing as it does have bits of style in some of the transitional fade-outs as well as some rhythmic cuts that help play into the suspense. Production designer Shin Jum-hee does amazing work with the look of Hae-mi’s apartment as well as the look of Ben’s posh apartment and the farm where Jong-su lives in. Costume designer Lee Choong-yeon does fantastic work with the costumes from the more casual look of both Jong-su and Hae-mi to the more posh-like clothes that Ben wears.

Special effects supervisor Ryoo Young-il and visual effects supervisor Suk Joong Kim do terrific work with some of the film’s visual effects that mainly play into a few scenes involving fire. Sound designer Lee Seung-cheol does superb work with the sound in the way music is presented at a speaker or at a club as well as the sound of the loudspeaker heard from the North Korean border. The film’s music by Lee Sung-hyun aka Mowg is incredible for its brooding music score that features elements of eerie percussions, warbling bass, and other intriguing instrumentation that help play into the suspense and drama while its soundtrack feature some K-pop music from Sistar, Nana D., and Krein as well as a piece of music for a major moment from Miles Davis.

The film’s wonderful ensemble cast feature some notable small roles from Lee Bong-ryun as Hae-mi’s sister whom Jong-su meets late in the film, Ban Hye-ra as Jong-su’s estranged mother whom he sees late in the film about his father, Min Boi-gi as a judge at Jong-su’s father case, Moon Sung-keun as the lawyer representing Jong-su’s father, Choi Seung-ho as Jong-su’s father, and Kim Soo-Kyung as a young woman who is with Ben in the film’s third act. Jeon Jong-seo is incredible as Shin Hae-mi as a young woman who works as a dancer for a department store who is an old neighbor of Jong-su as she is hoping to live a fruitful life despite her lack of direction as she is also someone that likes to dance.

Steven Yeun is phenomenal as Ben as this young rich man who has it all but also has a hobby that involves burning abandoned greenhouses as he is a man of charm but also someone that carries a lot of intrigue in his home and how he uses his wealth. Finally, Yoo Ah-in in a sensational performance as Lee Jong-su as this deliveryman who lives in a dilapidated farm with a young calf who reacquaints himself with a neighbor he hadn’t seen since childhood as he falls for her and then becomes suspicious of her new friend while dealing with things around him that only raises his concerns for Hae-mi.

Beoning is an outstanding film from Lee Chang-dong that features a trio of great performances from Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, and Jeon Jong-seo. Along with its gorgeous visuals, commentary on social disparity and influence, entrancing sound work, and a haunting music score by Mowg. The film is definitely a suspense-drama that doesn’t play by the rules while also providing some unique commentary on how people can use people with someone being aware that they’re being used. In the end, Beoning is a magnificent film from Lee Chang-dong.

Lee Chang-dong Films: (Green Fish) – (Peppermint Candy) – (Oasis (2002 film)) – Secret Sunshine - Poetry (2010 film)

© thevoid99 2022


ruth said...

Oh I've heard so many good things about this one, plus there's Steven Yeun! Thanks for reminding me I should watch this soon.

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-It's on MUBI right now but I think it's also on a few other streaming services but I think it's best to watch it on MUBI as you wouldn't have to deal with commercials. Right now, it's the best film of 2018 for me so far.