Burning is a 2018 Korean drama directed by Lee Chang-dong. The film is dedicated to Jung-soo, who wants to become an author. One day, he runs into a girl who was his neighbor when they were kids. Just when you might think this movie would be about a love story, rich guy Ben shows up with a weird hobby. Today I will try to explain to you in detail the plot and the ending of the film.
As the director explained the ending of the film
Based on what director Lee Chang Dong said, there are two options for explaining the film Burning. One of them is very literal, in which Ben is a sociopath and a serial killer who killed Hae-mi and Jung-soo got his revenge by killing him.
Another option is that Ben is not the killer. Hae-mi started a new life in a different place, and what we see at the end of the movie “Burning” is just the story of a novel that Jung-soo is writing.
We now divide our analysis into two parts regarding possible endings.
Movie explanation if Ben is a serial killer
There are many clues that point to Ben being a serial killer.
Ben claims that he has never shed a single tear in his life and that he has never felt sad. He calls his work “play”. We don’t know how Ben makes a living. There is a box of women’s accessories in Ben’s bathroom. In the world of serial killers, it can be “trophies” from each murder. Ben says he first felt jealous when Hae-mi told him that Jung-soo is the only person she trusts. But the way he says it to Jung Soo seems somewhat apologetic. Hei-mi’s cat, Boiler, is at Ben’s house, who lies about bringing home a stray cat. Hae-mi’s room is neat and clean, which is unlike her, but more like Ben. We are shown one scene from Ben’s point of view, where he prepares another girl with makeup for the ritual. Maybe it’s part of the process to destroy his victim. What is the purpose of the well that Hae-mi is talking about in the movie?
The well in the film is a prominent element of disorientation. The character of Hae-mi is constructed in the film as an unreliable source of information. A lot of what she says makes both Jung Soo and viewers question the veracity of her words. Sometimes you might even wonder if she took on a false name to befriend Chen Soo.
The well is one such event that she draws from a past that is a mystery. She claims that she fell into this well when she was 7 years old and that it was Jung-soo who noticed her. Jung-soo doesn’t remember this. He asks Hae-mi’s family and they say they never had a well. The neighbor also says the same. Jung-soo’s mother, however, remembers well that Hae-mi is abnormal and extremely unreliable.
So what is the relevance of the well? He makes us think that Hae-mi is a compulsive liar and that she also lied about her cat. This notion of her is used to provide an element of surprise when Chen Soo calls a cat named Boiler and she responds.
What does Ben mean by “Burning Greenhouses”?
Ben says he likes to find greenhouses and burn them down. He likes to erase things from existence. As Ben mentions, he sees this not as a crime, but as a natural disaster. But here’s the thing. Ben literally means something else by greenhouses. He believes that women who nurture and warm are metaphorical greenhouses. Ben kills women with these specific traits and disposes of the bodies, possibly near a lake.
How Ben killed Hae-mi
Looks like Ben kills someone every two months. He tells Jung-soo that he is looking for his next target and that she is “very close” to Jung-soo. Jung-soo takes his words literally, like a real greenhouse, but, as he confirms, not a single greenhouse in his vicinity was burned. But in the meantime, Ben killed Hae-mi and disposed of her body. There is a scene in the movie when Chen Soo receives a call from Hae-mi and all he hears is her panting as if she is running away. It was probably just before her death.
Why doesn’t Jung-soo go to the police? Why is Jung-soo killing Ben?
Chen Su knows that there is no hard evidence against Ben. If he mentioned a cat, then there would be no way to confirm that it was Hae-mi’s cat, as even the building administrator didn’t know about the cat. It looks like Hye-mi kept a cat in secret, as pets were not allowed in the building. Even women’s accessories are not significant evidence. Consequently, Jung-soo takes matters into his own hands, just like his father, who is in jail due to anger issues. Jung-soo kills and burns Ben for revenge.
Why did Ben show up at Rendezvous if he killed Hae-mi?
I believe that Ben fell in love with Jung Soo, and it seems that he himself allowed himself to be caught by him. At the end, when Jung-soo stabs Ben, he doesn’t fight back; instead, he hugs him. It could have been Ben’s decision that his time had come and he would rather die at the hands of someone of his choice. For someone as meticulous as Ben, it seems odd that he left his kill trophies in an outdoor bathtub. I think he wanted Jung Soo to find them.
Explanation of the film’s plot, assuming the end of the film is Jung-soo’s novel
This piece explores the metaphorical nature of the film Burning. As the director mentions, Jung Soo belongs to the struggling working class. Ben, on the other hand, is a successful Great Gatsby character. But when you are striving for material goals, you are unlikely to be happy when you achieve them. Hye-mi is located somewhere in the middle. She makes ends meet, taking odd jobs, living on credit, but is the only character who is looking for the meaning of life. And when it disappears, we feel empty.
This is not shown in the film, but the director hints that the end of the film is probably Chen Soo’s novel.
Burning: Ben in Jeong-soo’s novel
In the beginning, Ben jokingly suggests that Jung-soo write about him. Despite his wealth, Ben seems like a great guy. He is respectful and doesn’t mistreat Jung Soo because he is poor. He goes out of his way to invite Chen Soo to parties and introduces him to his friends. We are not shown anything bad about Ben. He seems to be the perfect gentleman. But that can’t be true, can it? There must be a catch!
When Chen Soo starts writing his book, he talks about his life and the story centers around a mysterious rich guy. While Jung-soo can’t bring out any of Ben’s obvious bad personality traits in real life, in his book, he gives him a dark side, making him a serial killer. There may be a downside to Ben, but it’s definitely not as bad as being an assassin. However, in his novel, Chen Soo decided that Ben was the killer.
Great Dance of Hunger
The “Great Hunger” dance scene is pivotal to the movie “Burning” not only because it cinematically captures the duality of life, the light side and the dark side, but also because this is the last time we see Hae-mi. She expresses her true self, happy and free, but is insulted by the one person she trusted the most.
What happened to Hae-mi?
Remember how at the beginning of the film, Hae-mi wondered what it would be like to disappear, as if she had never existed. So the idea of disappearing and starting a new life was piling up in her mind after a long time. But then she meets Chen Soo and hopes to find love. Unfortunately, he shows no fight for her.
When Ben offers Hae-Mi a ride home, she expects Chen-soo to come over and say he’ll pick her up himself. Instead, Chen-su asks her to go with Ben and pulls her bags out of his truck. Although he has feelings for her, he never expresses them. The final blow comes when Jung-soo calls her names.
Chen Soo suggests that Hae-mi is in a serious relationship with Ben, but this is not the case. Hae-mi decides to disappear from her current life, move to another place and start over. The reason her room looks like this is to make her feel like she never lived there, like she never existed. She leaves everything behind and leaves.
What was real and what was part of Chen-Su’s novel?
It’s safe to say that everything, up until the night they spend at Chen-soo’s house, is real and part of his book at the same time. All events after that night are part of a fictional story in the book. While in fact Hae-Mi has gone to another city to start a new life, Jung-Soo tries to explain her disappearance in his book in a different way, making Ben the killer. While in reality, Ben is a cultured, rich guy. The novel draws a dark side to him, making him a serial killer. Everything from finding Hae-Mi’s watch in Ben’s bathroom to killing and burning Ben is part of the story in the novel.
With all this, the movie is paradoxically very attractive. not too pleasant characters are interesting to watch, the overall impression is strong and leaves a lot of food for thought.
The viewer who loves unhurried festival dramas and subtle, attentive to trifles stories-meditations, which are so fond of oriental directors, will be able to feel the film. The director carefully follows Murakami’s ideas about the semantic ambivalence of what is happening, allowing events, in particular, the disappearance of Hae-mi, to be viewed from various points of view, using Ben’s phrase about greenhouses as one of the clues.
As examples that characterize many events in the spirit of “did it even exist?”, There are many scenario “phantoms” – Hae-mi’s passion for pantomime and eating an invisible tangerine, feeding her cat, which may not even exist, or a well from them since Chung-soo’s childhood.
But it is no coincidence that Lee Chang-dong called his work “a symbol of the tragedy of young people in the modern world”, because in the images of the three heroes and the relationship between them, he tries to cover problems that are relevant not only now, but at all times – envy caused by social inequality and easy money, jealousy, contempt and snobbery of the upper classes, low self-esteem and the realization of the futility of their own attempts to keep a loved one, not having a penny for their soul, which, as a result, results in uncontrollable rage. And, what is the saddest thing, the author does not see an optimistic way out of the current situation, sending a tormented and devastated soul far into nowhere.