Burning at HOME

Tom Grieve, Cinema Editor

Burning at HOME Manchester, Manchester 1 — 21 February 2019 Tickets from £5.50 — 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.

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Where to go near Burning at HOME

Indian Tiffin Room, Manchester

Indian Tiffin Room is a restaurant specialising in Indian street food, with branches in Cheadle and Manchester. This is the information for the Manchester venue.

The Ritz Manchester live music venue
Music venue
The Ritz

The Ritz was originally a dance hall, built in 1928, has hosted The Beatles, Frank Sinatra and The Smiths and is still going strong as a gig venue now.

Event venue

Homeground is HOME’s brand new outdoor venue, providing an open-air space for theatre, food, film, music, comedy and more.

Café or Coffee Shop
Burgess Cafe Bar

Small but perfectly-formed café – which also serves as the in-house bookstore, stocking all manner of Burgess-related works, along with recordings of his music. It’s a welcoming space, with huge glass windows making for a bright, welcoming atmosphere.

Rain Bar pub in Manchester
City Centre
Bar or Pub
Rain Bar

This huge three-floor pub, formerly a Victorian warehouse, then an umbrella factory (hence the name), has one of the city centre’s largest beer gardens. The two-tier terrace overlooks the Rochdale canal and what used to be the back of the Hacienda, providing an unusual, historic view of the city.

Bar or Pub
The Briton’s Protection

Standing on the corner of a junction opposite The Bridgewater Hall, The Briton’s Protection is Manchester’s oldest pub. It has occupied the same spot since 1795, going under the equally patriotic name The Ancient Britain.

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