I finally watching the Korean movie 'Burning' last night, and I rewatched parts of it again today.
'Burning' is basically about 3 young people in South Korea.
The main character is Jongsu, a delivery man and aspiring writer who recently returns to his violent, possibly even abusive father's dilapidated countryside farm located so near to North Korea they can hear their propaganda message everyday. Obviously in the lower rungs of society, Jongsu tries to make ends meet but his problems are complicated by his father's impending court case and dying farm business.
Haemi, a young lady who is also struggling to make ends meet and suffering from credit-card debts (a problem in Korea's young generation), is Jongsu's childhood neighhbour. The two coincidentally meet again one day and Haemi asks Jongsu to help take care of her cat while she travels to Africa to search for 'great hunger'.
Lastly, there is Ben, a wealthy young man Haemi meets on her Africa trip and introduces to Jongsu on her return. Ben is a self-declared arsonist who seemingly leads a carefree life in an Gangnam apartment, sips coffee in classy cafes and hangs out with friends who are equally wealthy. in contrast to Jongsu, Ben is likened to Gatsby, living a life that is like a dream, but yet also mysterious and no one knows what he actually does to become so rich.
Why I had wanted to watch the movie was because I'm a fan of both Steven Yuen (my favourite character from Walking Dead being Glenn) and Yoo Ah-in (he was so cute in 成均館緋聞).
Then about 1/4 into the show, the pace of the movie and the entire story started getting kind of painful for me to watch. I googled the movie and realised that the movie is based on the short story "Barn Burning" by author Haruki Murakami. And no wonder. I have a love-hate thing towards Haruki Murakami. His stories have always been very painful for me to read or watch, because of the slow pace and confusion. But at the end of the books I would can't help but want to go through the entire thing again.
Anyways, once I got past the pace and confusion, 'Burning' movie is a really great film. The movie is intentionally filmed in a way where everything in the show is presented in a very ambiguous manner, and the viewers are left to form their own conclusion about what happened and what is the truth. It is definitely a movie that I would recommend to watch and I can definitely see why it was selected as the South Korean entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Academy Awards although it was not nominated.
[Spoiler (click to open)]
For me, the entire story revolves around 2 questions
1. Was Ben a serial killer or was he just a Gatsby?
Personally, I prefer to think of him as a killer. I like to think that when Ben talks about himself as an arsonist who enjoys burning greenhouses, he is actually talking about murdering people. He murders people who he deem as empty and seemingly meaningless, just as he told Jongsu that he burns old empty, seemingly useless greenhouses left in the fields.
And the film ambiguously provides support to Ben being a serial killer. When Jongsu questions Ben on who judges whether the greenhouses are useful/meaningful or not, Ben replies that he doesn't judge. He simply accepts that they are useless and are simply waiting to be burnt away, and that he is like the rain which washes away people with flood waters. There is no right or wrong since it is just a natural part of nature, which I think is a very psychopathic and self-entitled thought.
Ben also mentions that he burns only greenhouses belonging to others, and he acknowledges that this is a crime that he easily commits with no guilt, and that he has already found one very very near to Jongsu. I like to think that the greenhouse near Jongsu refers to Haemi and Ben knows that Jongsu likes Haemi before Jongsu even told him
After Haemi goes missing and Jongsu starts to stalk Ben, Ben brings Jongsu on a merry-go-round chase around the farmlands. When they arrive at the lake, I can't help but think that this is where Ben hid Haemi's body, and he is actually letting Jongsu know and scorning him at the same time. While Haemi was his initial intended victim, it seemed like he started to enjoy toying with Jongsu, intentionally telling Jongsu about his arson-ism, inviting Jongsu to his house where Jongsu finds Haemi's watch and cat. I think Ben intentionally revealed all these because he realised that other than murder, these acts of silently confusing and torturing Jongsu also make him hear the very satisfying sound of bass in his heart which he craves.
Then again, there is also the possibility that Ben was not a serial killer that Jongsu imagines him to be. He could very well just be a very nice generous friend towards Haemi and Jongsu who like Gatsby, was misunderstood and framed for something he did not do, and eventually killed. As such, a happier ending for me, would actually be to believe that Ben is a serial killer as per Jongsu's belief. Because the alternative would mean that he is just an innocent wealthy man whose only crime was in burning greenhouses, changing girlfriends frequently and being rich.
2. Why did Jongsu kill Ben?
In a way, no matter Ben killed Haemi or not, Jongsu eventually chose to believe that Ben had killed Haemi. He gave in to violence and he made the conscious effort to murder Ben -- By asking Ben out to the farmlands, bringing a knife to stab him, and preparing gasoline to burn the body and car. It was a very active action and confrontation compared to the passivity he showed for the entire movie.
If we see Jongsu in a more positive light, then his reason to murder Ben was simply to exact revenge on Ben killing Haemi. From Jongsu's perspective, he had come to believe that this rich charming psychopath had picked Haemi as a victim, murdered Haemi, cleaned up Haemi's room after dumping her body, took her watch, stole her cat and moved onto the next victim as if nothing happened. Jongsu had tried so hard to stop Ben from burning the greenhouses, and when he finally figured out what it all meant, what else could he do with his anger but to avenge Haemi by killing Ben?
But on the other hand, Jongsu had also only met Haemi again just shorty before Ben met Haemi. I find it hard to be imagine that this newly ignited un-reciprocated love towards Haemi was sufficient motivation for Jongsu to kill Ben. I prefer to believe that jealousy and frustration towards Ben on his wealthy and carefree life, which is a huge contrast to Jongsu's own strugging life, and the fact that Haemi obviously prefered Ben over him, may have been the bigger factor in driving Jongsu to murder Ben. But it's a very sad thought, because if this is true, innocent Ben is really just a victim of Jongsu's frustration towards his own social status and life.
At the same time, both innocent Ben and serial killer Ben had also been seemingly provoking Jongsu, their generosity and friendliness towards Jongsu and Haemi a sarcastic jab at Jongsu's struggling life. Innocent Ben definitely wasn't expecting Jongsu to kill him, but I still can't decide whether serial killer Ben expected Jongsu to kill him. Serial Killer Ben had definitely been pushing Jongsu's buttons, to see whether Ben would take any action. It's too sad for me to think of innocent Ben being stabbed to death and his body left burning in his car... so I would still go for the idea of Jongsu having killed serial killer Ben and Ben received what he deserved.
But maybe, the best ending I would have liked was that Jongsu's murder of Ben was just a part of Jongsu's novel. And that he never did carry out the murder. Maybe they would stay as acquaintances or never meet again, which might actually be the best ending for the both of them.
From my Fujoshi world
Yes, the fujoshi in me couldn't help it. When you put 2 handsome guys together, I just have to.
And yes.. there are chinese fics on lofter that actually puts them together. ❤❤❤
Just look at Ben hanging on to Jongsu tighting at the end, it's almost like a hug.
And how Jongsu looks at Ben from behind... this could have been a scene from any BL drama.
Ben smiling happily at Jongsu.
Ben smiling a little sadly at Jongsu.❤❤❤
Trailer of Burning