Burning (2018) poster
Your Rating: 0/10
Ratings: 7.5/10 from 5,326 users
# of Watchers: 11,846
Reviews: 29 users
Ranked #6376
Popularity #1386
Watchers 5,326

Jong Su, a part-time worker, bumps into Hae Mi while delivering, who used to live in the same neighborhood. Hae Mi asks him to look after her cat while she's on a trip to Africa. When Hae Mi comes back, she introduces Ben, a mysterious guy she met in Africa, to Jong Su. One day, Ben visits Jong Su's with Hae Mi and confesses his own secret hobby. (Source: KoBiz) ~~ Adapted from the short story "Barn Burning" by Murakami Haruki. Edit Translation

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  • Country: South Korea
  • Type: Movie
  • Release Date: May 17, 2018
  • Duration: 2 hr. 27 min.
  • Score: 7.5 (scored by 5,326 users)
  • Ranked: #6376
  • Popularity: #1386
  • Content Rating: 18+ Restricted (violence & profanity)

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Cast & Credits


Burning (2018) photo
Burning (2018) photo
Burning (2018) photo
Burning (2018) photo
Burning (2018) photo
Burning (2018) photo


94 people found this review helpful
Nov 27, 2018
Completed 2
Overall 10
Story 10
Acting/Cast 10
Music 10
Rewatch Value 10


I find myself having a different taste than most users here on MDL so I would totally not recommend it if you can't handle slow type of movie especially this one which is 2 1/2 hours long. This movie also contains sex scenes so definitely not for everyone. People with attention span of a goldfish would hate this movie.

Jongsu is an aspiring writer; he also works as a part time delivery man. One day while doing his delivery task he bumps into hae min, who is apparently his childhood friend. hae min said she is going to africa and ask jongsu to look after her cat. Hae min comes back along with mysterious guy named ben. One day ben and hae min visits jongsu, later on ben confessed to jongsu his secret hobby.

It is the definition of slow burn no pun intended, utilizing the time to explore the life of the lead character, his affection to Hae min, conflicts with his family and his view to korean society. The film is a character study and Jongsu is just our extension in the movie. The movie is very philosophical in which the central theme revolves around "little and great hunger"(what we want / what we need), it is also very metaphorical, simmering with ambiguity, it's the best example of less talk see it in action and it also loaded with symbolism throughout. Though being the film a slow burn and with its 2 1/2 hours running time, it is by no means a dull or boring movie. It is a hypnotic experience and throughout the movie you will use your brain a lot as mysteries after mysteries unfolds.

Cinematography is topnotch. It's beautifully shot, able to capture the eerie atmosphere on screen. I also love the shots at dawn, it's enigmatic yet mesmerizing. Music just makes this thriller movie 100x better. It is haunting, builds tension, underlines the mood and evokes characters emotion.

Acting is masterful, might be the best I've seen in years. Let's talk about the lead girl first. Jeon Jong Seo as a free spirited gypsy is just brilliant, the way she pantomime eating orange is very believable, the philosophical element of the movie plays here, that's why that scene is important in the movie. She also not just good looking but also has great screen presence. Yoo Ah In who played Jongsu is equally brilliant. The development of his character is handled really well especially during the later part when his character became obsessed. Steven Yeun is not just a guy from walking dead, the dude can really act. I love the way he made the character more mysterious through his facial expressions.

Perfectly crafted movie, you would feel the labor of love put by a director making movies like this. It's that type of movie that you would get something new every time you watch it. Definitely the best movie I've seen this year and the best korean film I've seen in a decade. This is a masterpiece.

If you enjoy the though provoking element and the whole ambiance in this movie I'm sure you would love to read some Haruki Murakami novels.

Check my Blog for other reviews & other JDramas stuffs. (。◕‿‿◕。)

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71 people found this review helpful
May 28, 2019
Completed 4
Overall 10
Story 9.5
Acting/Cast 10
Music 8.0
Rewatch Value 10
This review may contain spoilers
(There are heavy spoilers ahead for those who haven't watched it, since this is a review mainly about the details of the plot.)

Burning is the type of film that has multiple themes but still manages to bring them out clearly through layers of symbolism. Recurring themes are sprinkled throughout the run time, and seemingly unimportant details become essential to the appreciation of this work. The slow-paced, character-driven plotline may be a turn-off for certain viewers, but rewards those who are patient and attentive to details. In this review, I will try to unfold all the themes that I have observed throughout the story.

Theme #1: Fact vs Imagination
A recurring theme in the story is what is real and what not. This is first mentioned through Haemi's depiction of an imaginary tangerine, peeled and consumed between her fingers. "Rather than imagining its existence, you forget about its non-existence... and naturally your mouth waters", she says. Another instance is Haemi's cat Boil, which Haemi tells Lee Jong Soo to feed while she is gone. The cat is never seen in the apartment despite Jong Soo's frequent visits. This could be a reference to the "Schrödinger's Cat", a quantum thought experiment in which a cat is simultaneously dead and alive, until it has been observed. Another reference of this is when Ben says he is "here and there, at home and out travelling, in Korea and in Africa". Haemi also talks about falling into a well at the age of 7, feeling disappointed that Jong Soo doesn't remember him saving her at the time. After further enquiries, Haemi's family claims that there was never a well at their place, while Jong Soo's mother remembers the well having existed. Was there ever a well? Or was it all made up by Haemi? The dual nature of existence expands further to the actions of the main characters -- whether there was truly a greenhouse that Ben burnt down, why Haemi suddenly vanished, and whether Ben was the culprit behind Haemi's disappearance. Did Haemi run away to escape from her debt, commit suicide because of her existential depression, or was she really killed? Near the end, Jong Soo calls Ben's new cat "Boil", and the cat runs into his arms. We never know if this is a mere coincidence, or if Ben killed Haemi and adopted her cat. These events highlight the ambiguity and uncertainty of life, that we can never be sure about what we seem to know, and everything is up for interpretation and our own belief.

Theme #2: Presence vs Absence
Another theme is an unsettling tension caused by the desire for something and the lack thereof. The absence of Haemi and the lust that Jong Soo has for her, the absence of a mother figure in Jong Soo's life and his loneliness as a person living a solitary life in a rural area carrying the weight of his father's prosecution on his shoulders, the absence of the cat that is believed to exist, and the phone calls that remain silent regardless of anticipation. This unsettling tension is evident even to the audience, whose questions about the plot are never answered. Jong Soo fails to find enough evidence to prove that Ben killed Haemi, and it leaves us hanging forever even after the credits roll. Our emotions become one with Jong Soo, and we become Jong Soo himself -- we want to search for truth, to be certain that we know something, to the point we start to believe what we want to believe just for the sake of filling that void in our minds. The movie ends without answering any of our questions, because the essence of this movie is not what the truth is, it's how we and the main character react to not knowing the truth. Something is off, but we don't know what exactly is wrong. It's always the absence of something that makes our skin crawl. We keep answering that anonymous phone calls hoping that someone will say something, so that we can know the "who", "what" and "why", and every time they aren't answered, we feel more impatient and curious, and "burn" with the growing desire of receiving a response -- this brings us to the next theme that we will explore.

Theme #3: Burning
The title of the movie is "Burning", so there are plenty of "burning" symbolisms sprinkled throughout. The burning bonfire of the "Great Hunger" dance depicting Haemi's desperate search for the meaning of life, the burning greenhouses suggesting Ben's unruly and destructive tendencies, the burning clothes of Jong Soo's mother representing the desire to sever ties and erase memories, the burning scene of the crime when Jong Soo kills Ben representing his hatred, and the burning lust and passion that Jong Soo has for Haemi that is never satisfied after Haemi drifts apart from him and eventually disappears from his life. Even the audience experiences a burning sensation of wanting to unravel the mysteries but is unable to -- resembling a slowly burning pot that never gets to boil.

Theme #4: Working class vs The "Gatsby"
There is an apparent gap of living between Jong Soo/Haemi and Ben/Ben's female friends. While Jong Soo is unable to earn a living as a creative writer and Haemi is struggling to make ends meet with all that endless debt, Ben lives a worry-free life cooking pasta at home and blurring the line between "fun" and "work". Jong Soo cannot do anything but frown when he realizes that he has lost his love to a man in a speeding Porche. The way Ben yawns and his friends laugh is almost humiliating sometimes, even though they try to cover up their lack of interest and degrading attitude behind their noble facades. To Ben, people's possessions (and probably people too) are only toys to him, things that can disappear without a trace without drawing any attention from the police, because they are too insignificant to be concerned about. The haunting thing about this is how true it is. When Haemi disappears, nobody seems to notice or care at all, because losing one lonely and ordinary girl does not matter at all to the world. Regardless of whether Ben murdered her, the indifference of the world towards a girl's disappearance is brutal enough, and shows how frail a person's life is if they are a nobody.

Theme #5: The clash of characters
It was brought up multiple times that Jong Soo's "occupation" is a creative writer, yet we never see him writing except in two distinctive scenes. Jong Soo spends most of his time managing his father's farm, passing the time at home, feeding Haemi's unobservable cat, and satisfying his sexual desires. The only piece of writing we see from him is the petition he writes for his father who is being convicted, implying that rather than using his writing skills for creative production, he can only use them to solve his real-life issues. One of the possible reasons could be that he is incapable of writing, because he is merely a mindless empty shell stuck in his past. He resonates with Faulkner's work, because he thinks it resembles his own life (his past), but he has no other thoughts aside from this past, nor does he have enough connection with the outer world to come up with any story for a novel. Due to having a broken family and lacking maternal love he is unable to properly interact with the world and enjoy life, but deep inside he longs for a connection, and tries to address this loneliness through touching himself. He is only surviving, but not living. Haemi, on the other hand, is drowning in debts but living her life in complete spontaneity. She is free-spirited and always has her head in the clouds, as if she is drunk. She smiles at one moment, and suddenly bursts into tears in another. She dances wildly, strips herself naked, without social schema ever crossing her mind. Haemi may seem insane, but she could be the most sane character in the story -- the only character that is truly living, that knows what is real and what is not, and contemplates about life's meaning. Despite having plastic surgery, she is more raw and authentic than those who live wearing a mask. And this is what Jong Soo likes about her, but what Ben finds boring. The three characters have different personalities and backgrounds, which ignites interesting sparks in their encounters.

Theme #6: Gender roles
The movie briefly touches on topics of toxic masculinity and female oppression in society. Quoting from Haemi's friend, "there is no country for women", women are often subject to scrutiny and harsh standards. "You're ugly", "Only prostitutes take off their clothes like that in front of men", Jong Soo is the typical traditional male who applies the scrutiny of appearance and behaviour. To Jong Soo, Haemi is the target of his sexual fantasies, the serrogate of a mother figure, and just an "ugly" girl that he doesn't remember from his past but a smoking love interest after her physical transformation. Ben takes on the role of playboys in society, those who pretend to respect and treasure women because "women like that are interesting", but actually see women as objects of possession, and to the extreme in this case, "trophies" that can be collected.

There could be more themes in this movie waiting to be discovered, but the above is my take on its more easily accessible themes. Burning is a masterpiece when it comes to having multiple themes perfectly woven together and presented through a single sit-through. It is a hidden gem among the countless fast-paced Korean films of this era, as it manages to go against the tides to adopt a more relaxed pace of story-telling, and such attempt was highly successful.

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  • Movie: Burning
  • Country: South Korea
  • Release Date: May 17, 2018
  • Duration: 2 hr. 27 min.
  • Content Rating: 18+ Restricted (violence & profanity)


  • Score: 7.5 (scored by 5,326 users)
  • Ranked: #6376
  • Popularity: #1386
  • Watchers: 11,846

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