Category: film

Burning (Beoning) 2018

After quite a bit of searching, finally, I caught this film at the nearby Art Cinema. There was a larger crowd than I thought there’d be; half of the theater like me, were people attending alone. This is the kind of crowd I love to see such a film in, because specific reasons, possibly highly cultivated reasons, almost certainly brought them there. 

For me it was Yoo Ah In  at first, but then my reason changed. As I read more about the reception at Cannes, and the origin of the screenplay as based a short story by Haruki Murakami, I began to prepare myself for a theater experience that would be an entirely new to me. 

"Jong-su, Hae-mi and ben, strange love triangle.  A film that would have deserved the Palme d'Or."  From the site Telerama.Fr
GORGEOUS PHOTO – from the site Telerama.Fr

I love to read Murakami just for the moods he sets, and that he brings the reader so well into a sort of suspended space of no particular attachment to specific ends. This makes it hard to rest, but also very restful, because one has to go along. 

Or at least that’s my experience of reading Murakami. So when I knew that Burning was based on one of his short stories, I began to anticipate in a different way. First of all, I felt that I could read more about the film ahead of time without worrying too much over spoilers, because no spoiler can give away mood. Someone can go on and on analyzing the plot points and the elements of a story that happens, and cannot touch what I most value about Murakami.

Second, I began to prepare myself to see a different actor than the one who had drawn me there, by which I don’t mean an actor not Yoo Ah In, but I began to prepare to see a different Yoo Ah In

I did. And I admire him all the more for what I saw.

(slight spoiler ahead)

Which was a stripped-down, no-shine, Yoo Ah In. What I am reminded of by way of comparison, are conversations I’ve had with my son about modern art. There are some artists he doesn’t ‘get’ yet, because he doesn’t want to. He can’t see the complexity in the simplicity they exhibit. In many cases, this is because he hasn’t seen previous works, so there is no belief in restraint, or the difficulty that may have been at play, not to show off. 

I’m sure that this is in large part due to the Director, Chang-dong Lee,
who is obviously masterful, however I have not seen his other films. One thing for sure is that he embodies Murakami, or at least I felt so, in the long scenes especially, set in the least stereo-typically inspiring environments. I will one day own this film just go back and linger in these moments. 

Other than that, I won’t say much more for now. I noticed that Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t even have “approved quotes” for the film, which means the studio has managed to maintain a bit of mystery. I’ll respect that. ūüôā

On a lighter note. should I survey my local friends, Steven Yeun might be one of few Asian actors they know by name, along with Sandra Oh. However, having never seen The Walking Dead, I had 0 familiarity with Yeun before this film, and I’m glad for the introduction.

I was also so moved by Jeon Jong-seo‘s portrayal of the character Haemi. Just this week a brilliant journalistic story broke from the Miami Herald, which was about many Haemis. To say more would give away this string of the film, contradicting my determination above, but I may come back later.

Of Secrets and Love Affairs


I like to watch some shows over and over again, gleaning from another  angle each time, paying more attention to one character or another, or revisiting questions I had before.  And I like sexy shows.  One might not immediately think of Korean TV as sexy as compared with American TV, but it is, especially in its quality of withholding.

An obvious example is Secret Love Affair, which has one of those titles I’m embarrassed by – just so cliche’.¬† Yet, it’s a beautiful drama, touching deep questions about what is important in a life and how people change over time, choosing different things.

Also, piano.  Piano runs through the drama as also metaphor for passion, as it has in various films in the past, films that are no longer really made.  The very reason I was drawn to Korean TV was nostalgia for a kind of film that seems no longer of interest in America; high quality romantic films like Notting Hill, or conflicted, sexy films like The English Patient.

Also, Yoo Ah In¬†is the most complex actor I’ve encountered in a very long while.

I searched for a clip of an award acceptance speech for a Six Flying Dragons, but couldn’t find the one I was looking for, in which he played emotions across his face, unapologetically exuding an instrument many actors seem hesitant to show, or can’t.¬† So in that sense, he fits especially well the character in this drama, who is a hardly-contained and naturally gifted Artist.

I have friends who cannot stand ‘adultery dramas’ – who boil them down (imo) too far, and I respect those friends.¬† However, perhaps because I’ve lived so much of my life as an observer of sublimated happenings, picking up on dynamics people try not to show, I’m especially drawn to them.

She seemed restless.

In the summer of …

the whole of London was restless

in the face of the coming storm.

(lines from The End of the Affair screenplay)

Sarah Miles

[All Spoilers- well known story (book and film)]

Sparked by a character meme going around, I went back to watch the film that first came to mind when faced with the seemingly simple question of, “What three or four fictional characters do¬†you¬†identify with strongly?”¬†Not that I could narrow it down to two or three characters, but some faces flashed up immediately without much thought at all.

Sarah Miles

“Are you saying my husband’s a fiction?” – “I’m saying he could be, in the right hands.”

It has been a few years, but at a difficult¬†crossroad point in my life I watched this film every few months, as if working on a puzzle.¬†In my case, it wasn’t that there was¬†an affair, or another actual person creating such a contrast, but that my then life nonetheless felt like Sarah’s… lonely though surrounded with others, perfectly fine in many important ways, but, as¬†Bendrix identifies immediately upon seeing her, restless. He attributes much to the context of¬†the war.

This was before I knew the background of Graham Greene’s novel The End of the Affair, and knew that the story was based very strongly on his actual life experience of living with his lover, Catherine Walston, and his lover’s husband… a socially imperfect situation that nonetheless for a time seemed to ensure what was needed for each. I haven’t made a deep study of it, because¬†the novel conveyed his sense of things well, as did the film, though altered. Greene, as an intelligent, wrestling, person of faith, was a master at¬†including this¬†Invisible Character, registering even the subtle effects of belief and disbelief within the flow of characters’ consciences and actions.

For Sarah, God takes form of both savior and destroyer. In Bendrix, an unworthy intrusion. For Henry, a man without passion, God¬†doesn’t register at all. And making the¬†center of the story¬†even more obvious, the insertion of a¬†priest wrestling with his own desire, who seemed to feel the ownership Henry didn’t, with a different justification.

Julianne Moore is perfect in this part, as is the clothing of the time… the tone of a world pretending to¬†continue functioning as usual, though falling apart. And this film was the first time I laid eyes on Ralph Fiennes, before I hunted down nearly everything else he’d ever acted in.

“Does Henry like onions?”

I liked so much about the rhythms of the film, how we begin the story part way through, actually more toward the end than beginning, then look back from Maurice Bendrix’s¬†view first, and through the eyes of his wide-eyed and somewhat bumbling investigator. The¬†case against Sarah is strong, not just the case against her treatment of Henry, but Maurice too. Henry broods over the loss of his comfortable world, but Maurice rages, first against Sarah, channeling his passion.


We get to see the intensity of their love affair in flashbacks of lovemaking (admittedly, filmed too overtly, saw to butter), and to follow the desperation of his doubts and fears, along with her assurances, before they are aware of what is about to happen to their bubble.

“How can you be jealous the rain?”

Until the day she rejects him at the most vulnerable moment possible, in a way he can’t possibly accept nor understand.


“Do you believe in things you can’t see?”

Then appears to go on with the motions of her life. Until¬†a new piece of evidence arrives. Sarah’s view, in the device of a diary, allows Bendrix¬†to discover¬†her heart along with her¬†unreasonable reasons. With him, we go back into the very same moments, through Sarah’s eyes.


“I wasn’t sure I liked the peace.”

He reaches out immediately, following her¬†into a church, where¬†the Invisible becomes visible. I especially liked that… as though he had been waiting for that one key that he underneath it all knew was coming, to confirm what he could not¬†let go of.each-time-i-tried

“Each time I tried (to tell you), something would happen.”

I suppose that’s a common fantasy – one more people are actually playing out when their Plan As crumble – returning to their ‘real’ love.¬†Just today a friend shared photos of a couple that “took a twenty year break”¬†but feel they’ve gotten destiny right this time.

I guess the funny thing for me is, I wouldn’t be able to write about my own intimate process with this film and with¬†Sarah, if there were any romantic partner to be careful of. That in itself tempts me to protect the aloneness I also at times, despise…. the emptiness that Sarah says, in the language of the church, God fills with Himself.


“Happiness is harder to write.”

For a moment, they are happy. They live out their life together sharing imagination, over a weekend. Until Henry arrives, not to cause a scene or win her back, but to give bad news. Sarah then calmly references the two vows of her life, one to Henry and one to God.

“See Morris, you may have to keep your promises.”

Within this sorrowful reality, Henry proposes that Maurice move in… that they will care for her in her last days, together. These scenes are quite beautiful… the men embracing, Bendrix bringing Henry tea, the priest coming to visit and being turned away, Bendrix angrily identifying himself as “the lover, Father.”


And there is a small funeral scene that was missing from the book but brings the focus of the film back to faith… not just Sarah’s but now Bendrix’s angry embrace of God “as though You existed.”

I found while re-watching, that the¬†story still has questions for me, although the experience of watching the film wasn’t quite as entrancing. ¬†The reds of Sarah’s clothing, and the overall aesthetic, isn’t one I could ever tire of, but the film itself could be finer, more subtle. Actually The English Patient¬†has many very similar themes and captivations, and also¬†more intricate care.

Or Not…

What unfortunately strange direction and editing choices for Moon Lovers, Scarlet Heart Ryeo.

After seeming to know exactly what makes for the best experience and ¬†heart-moving story, the close ups and sloppy flashbacks this week were hard to bear. Kang Ha Neul is a beautiful person, but I don’t need to be in his nostrils.


I still like the story… still like the actors. A lot.¬†They just should have kept that good story long, and less compromised, chopped into fewer bits. “Maybe the director doesn’t know what to do with bodies” said my son, who had tried to watch with me a second time. It took him ten minutes in to mention¬†how overdone the close-ups are, and how almost wonderful it all is.

There are fantastic commentaries on a few sites, that go into what a strongly written female story this is at its core, in spite of early attention paid to the group of princes. I still look forward to it all week, but wow can’t we have at least a few more Episode 11s??

The Cure

So the cure for malaise turned out to be watching a few Korean films and a British series based on a book I’ve read a few times and have given several friends.

Starting with the films:

A Man and a Woman (Korean)The french film is the one that probably comes to mind for most when reading the title, and it was my fondness for that film that brought me to this one, along with actors Jeon Do-Yeon and Gong Yoo. On the heels of watching the Korean version of The Good Wife, I watched both this film and Memories of the Sword: the first which I was totally absorbed in, and the second which was interesting but not especially novel if as familiar with martial arts revenge and/or historical films as I am. A Man and a Woman had most of the elements of Korean storytelling that I love, and a few nicely steamy scenes, but ultimately was about adult aloneness, a theme I very much relate to.

Dong Ju: Portrait of a PoetThis is a telling of the talented Korean poet Yun DongJu, who lived and died in jail quite young, during the time of the Korean Independence Movement. Kang Ha Neul was my draw to this film, but also stills I had come across that displayed artistry and care. This was a case where I wanted to see more of his life outside of jail than the film offered, but wanting to see more does not at all constitute a negative review.

Up where the seasons pass,
the sky is filled with autumn.
In this untroubled quietude
I could almost count these autumn-couched stars.
But why I cannot now enumerate
those one or two stars in my breast
is because the dawn is breaking soon,
and I have tomorrow night in store,
and because my youth is not yet done.
Memory for one star,
love for another star,
sorrow for another star,
longing for another star,
poetry for another star,
and oh! mother for another star.
Mother! I try to call each star by some such evocative word, names of school children with whom I shared desks, names of alien girls like Pai, Kyunh, Ok, names of maidens who have already become mothers, names of neighbors who lived in poverty, names of birds and beasts like pigeon, puppy, rabbit, donkey, deer,and names of poets like Francis, Jammes and Reiner Maria Rilke.
They are as far away
and intangible as the stars.
You too are in the distant land of the Manchus.
Because I have a secret yearning,
seated on this star-showered bank,
I have written my name thereon
and covered it with earth.
In truth, it is because the insects chirp
all night to grieve over my bashful name.
But spring shall come to my stars after winter’s delay,
greening the turf over the graves,
so this bank that buries my name
shall proudly wear the grass again.
-Yun DongJu


¬†The Handmaiden I hadn’t seen the BBC adaptation of this novel, nor read The Fingersmith in the first place. I was simply curious about the buzz, and to find out what ‘the twist’ would be. No disappointment! This is a¬†“not for everyone” film. It is disturbing, redemptive, and¬†goes beyond ‘sexy’ sex scenes.


The Mini Series


Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell – It was no small feat to make an¬†8-episode series out of an over 1000 page book, and definitely no small feat to make it well, considering the book’s grand¬†magical elements,¬†which >whew<¬†turned out visually and emotionally fitting for the world and story.¬†

The trickiest part for adaptation¬†of the book must lay in the novel’s genius footnotes, some of which take up entire pages. Those footnotes contain much of the cheeky humor and were my largest concern when news of the mini-series first broke. ¬†I still can’t quite believe they pulled it off, but the film feels like the book – quite distinctly English – while standing on its own, and takes nothing from my desire to read the novel again and again.¬†

Beauty Inside

I felt fortunate this weekend, to find The Beauty Inside, a film whose title I kept coming across when I looked for other kinds of information. So many top actors starring in the same film?

beauty inside

Woo-Jin¬†wakes up truly new every morning, in a body he cannot predict… one that may be a¬†beautiful man, an older ajumma, young child,¬†ordinary¬†lady, etc. He builds a life, hones a talent, while never investing too deeply with others.

The film dances beautiful edges, and we come to believe in the many strong underlying connections between the two lovers, transcending appearance, although sadly, in some ways the film still plays quite safe, and can be insensitive at times.

Still, the blind spots didn’t leave me wanting on the whole. It was a¬†soft and fluid film, meaningful, and strangely realistic for the premise, which could have gone so… wrong.