Burning – Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Tom Grieve, Cinema Editor

19 May — 31 August 2020 Tickets from £3.49 — Book now

Loosely based upon a Haruki Murakami short story, South Korean director Lee Chang-dong’s slippery new film starts almost as a strange comedy of lovers. We open in the city of Paju, where socially-awkward, aspiring novellist Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) who runs into Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), an old schoolmate from home. He doesn’t remember her at first, but Hae-mi is charming and she talks to him about pantomime over dinner. She invites him to her apartment and they have sex once before she embarks on a solo trip to Africa. Jong-su is enlisted in the task of feeding her cat while she’s away. He does so, but he never sees it despite multiple visits to her tiny apartment, where he takes to masturbating over her photos.

Hae-mi returns from her trip and calls Jong-su for a lift home from the airport. He’s surprised to find that she has a new lover in toe. Ben (played by Korean-American actor Steven Yuen) is confident, rich and handsome. He drives a Porsche and says things like, “Nowadays there is no distinction between work and play.” Jong-su, meanwhile, has had to move back to the run-down family farm because his father has been sent to prison for assaulting a government inspector. The farm is so close to the North Korean border that you can hear the propaganda broadcast from the front porch.

An unlikely group, held together by Hae-mi, the threesome spend time in Ben’s luxury high-rise apartment and smoke weed outside of Jong-su’s farmhouse. Prone to falling asleep at the drop of the hat, Hae-mi leaves time for the two men form an uneasy bond. Lee’s widescreen compositions are airy, allowing plenty of space for mystery to creep in at the edges. He films Hae-mi dancing at sunset, she’s high and topless and she achieves something like rapture before falling asleep. Ben tells Jong-su how he likes to burn down rural greenhouses. He plots a burning every two months, and he’s scouting right now.

As things are settling into an uneasy rhythm of farce and desire, an unexpected happening blows a hole out of the side of the love triangle. Off-balance and off-kilter, Lee plunges us into an elegant, sparse thriller. Ben becomes a villain who would slide comfortably into a Patricia Highsmith novel or an Alfred Hitchcock film, or does he? Jong-su has suspicions and we are left adrift with him, condemned to reconsider every stray comment, half smirk and character detail that has come before. Does Heu-mi actually have a cat? If she does, does it know its name? Why does Ben have so much makeup and women’s jewelry in his bathroom cabinet? Is she even who she claims to be?

Burning is the kind of film likely to become an obsession for those receptive to its particular brand of slow burn, elliptical puzzle. Lee charts a path through Korean society, keenly delving into class concerns as two men battle for the affections of an enigmatic woman and in doing so, also leading us to questions of masculinity and misogyny. There’s a denouement which may seem too leaden with literary symbolism for some, but there’s meat to the mystery — even if there’s nothing to solve, ultimately.

Burning is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video from £3.49.

19 May — 31 August 2020

Book Now

What's on: Cinema

MIF23: Jenn Nkiru

Visionary filmmaker Jenn Nkiru turns her attention to Manchester with a brand new short film.

free entry

Culture Guides


There's no rest for the art lover - this month brings outdoor sculpture, musings on water, political drawings and Liverpool Biennial 2023!


We look towards a summer filled with quality festivals, from cultural behemoths to grassroots gems.

Winnie the Pooh at Manchester Opera House

The sun has finally got his hat on! Enjoy our top picks of family-friendly events and activities, both indoors and outdoors.

Classical Music

Summer's classical music calendar is filling up nicely! Read our top picks of concerts happening in Manchester and the North.

Gerry Potter (credit Lee Baxter)

Books are big this summer, with festival readings, poetry slams, creative writing activities and famous faces all putting in an appearance.

Food and Drink

All signs point toward June being a scorcher of a month, so let’s take a look at all things summery food and drink.

Tours and Activities

From literary activities to brilliant independent shops, keep your minds and homes filled with the good stuff this month.

Theatre in Manchester

Check out our updated guide for lively theatre festivals, rip-roaring rooftop circus and dreamy outdoor shows.