Adelaide Film Festival 2018: Burning

Adelaide Film Festival

What: Burning

Where: GU Film House Adelaide

When: 18 & 20 October 2018

Cost: $16-20 

Duration: 148 minutes

(Korean with English subtitles)


What initially appears to be a film about ‘boy meets girl’ slowly unfolds to tell a much more sinister and dark story than one might have thought.

Two young adults from the same country town, Jong-Su and Hae-mi, are reunited in the city. It becomes apparent that Jong-Su had not given Hae-mi much notice or thought back when they were young, but becomes entranced by her newly constructed cosmetic beauty coupled with a shared sexual encounter. Hae-mi goes away for a few weeks to Africa and entrusts her loft and the feeding of her cat to Jong-su. Everyday he obediently feeds her cat and spends time in her loft, and over the few weeks becomes more emotionally attached to Hae-mi.

However, upon her return Hae-mi brings a male companion, and both Hae-mi and Jong-Su become entangled in the life of this young, rich, and handsome man, Ben. Jong-Su describes Ben as a ‘Great Gatsby’, someone who lives a lavish and luxurious lifestyle, but mystery shrouds the true source of his income and activities.


Adelaide Film Festival

We are made to question why someone of Ben’s status and stature would involve himself with two poor country folk. When Hae-mi disappears without a trace, Jong-su is left in her wake and tries to uncover Ben’s true nefarious purposes for befriending them in the first place.

Jong-Su becomes so absorbed in trying to find her and ignores the duties of his own personal life: the indifference towards his mother who resurfaces after 16 years, his father’s legal trial and subsequent imprisonment, as well as his own academic endeavours of becoming a writer are all pushed aside in his quest to find Hae-mi. He begins to stalk Ben, and notices the same pattern of behaviour he exhibited when hanging out with Hae-mi, with another girl. 


Adelaide Film Festival

Based on the short story by Murakami, is explanation to the peculiar undertone of the film as well as the puzzling allure of Ben’s characterisation. He embeds coded messages throughout the storyline that allows the audience to piece together the obscurity of what happened to Hae-mi.

Ben says to Jong-su that every two months he likes to burn down an abandoned greenhouse. Saying that they are just sitting around waiting to be destroyed, and that he will be burning one down near Jong-su’s home very soon.

Daily, Jong-su begins to run past all the greenhouses near his home, trying to find any remnants of Ben’s strange hobby. It is evidently clear that Ben uses this activity as a metaphor for murdering young women, along with the discovery of Hae-mi’s watch in Ben’s bathroom drawer along with souvenirs from previous victims, and it is alluded to that Ben is a psychopath – he admits that he never cries as a show of emotion, and that Hae-mi made him feel jealousy for the first time.

In the end I found the film incredibly unsatisfying, which is perhaps the intention. The lack of confirmation about the circumstances of Hae-mi’s disappearance, the anonymity of Ben and his lifestyle, as well as the lack of character development in Jong-su. One moment Jong-su is an introverted man performing odd jobs in Paju, the next he is an incensed murderer. I thought that there was insufficient development dedicated to the evolution of his character. Furthermore, it was far too long. Two and a half hours of slow paced stalking and investigation did not reciprocate the the urgency in Jong-su’s desperate endeavours to find Hae-mi.


3 out of 5 Stars

– By Rachel Wong 

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