‘Burning’: The best South Korean movies from 2018
The complex, mystical works of Japanese writer Haruki Murakami (Toni Takitani) have struggled to reach the big screen. Due to their multiple narratives, tricky subject matter, and abstract concepts, the current most popular Japanese novelist has yet to find mainstream success outside of the literature world.
However, all that might be about to change. Based on a Murakami short story, Barn Burning, South Korean film Burning has just debuted at the Cannes Film Festival to rave reviews. Lee Chang-dong – who previously directed Secret Sunshine (2007) and Poetry (2010) – has adapted the story into a film about “young people in today’s world” that has the feeling of “a mystery”.
Starring Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead) alongside Yoo Ah-in (The Throne) and Jeon Jong-seo, Burning promises to be a mysterious and thrilling exploration of class and loneliness that Eric Kohn of Indiewire has praised as a “haunting, beautiful tone poem.”
After an eight year gap, it’s certainly a welcome return for the Korean director, and Burning could easily go down as one of the most important East Asian films of the year. No American release date has yet been set but it’s just been released in South Korea today after critical acclaim at Cannes, so expect announcements for its Western distribution any day now.
With South Korean cinema still enjoying an all-time high (Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden just won the Foreign Language BAFTA and was this close to an Oscar nomination), we thought we should take a look at some more Korean films slated for release this year that could rival Burning for the top spot.
In Between Seasons
If you’re into South Korean cinema, you’ve probably seen the grisly likes of Oldboy, I Saw the Devil, and Memories of Murder. However, Korean films aren’t all vengeance and serial killers. You might be surprised to learn that a gay romance, adapted from the director’s own graphic novel, screened at the Busan International Film Festival two years ago. It looks sweet as hell and we can’t wait to track it down.
Okay, we all know why you’re really here. While The Vanished looks much more subdued than the standard fare we’ve come to expect from South Korean thrillers, this investigation of a missing dead body should prove morbidly fascinating.
Seven Years of Night
This is more like it. After his daughter is accidentally killed, her body dumped in a nearby lake, an enraged father seeks revenge and constructs an elaborate plan to track down her hapless murderer. Vengeance is sweet. South Korean vengeance is bloody.
A classic stalker thriller in the same vein as Japan’s technological horrors, a young girl finds herself being manipulated through text messages. Think the complete opposite of Personal Shopper.
A fantasy film involving a patrol officer whose soul gets separated from his body following a fatal accident. As a wandering spirit, he has unfinished business and is committed to completing the case he was working on. A premise we’ve seen time and time before, but hopefully there are a couple of new spins on it.
This manga had already been adapted into a two-part Japanese film a couple of years ago, but any film that manages to condense a four-hour story into an hour and forty minutes is alright by us. This version also has the benefit of starring Tae-ri Kim, whose impressive feature debut in The Handmaiden made her a force to be reckoned with.
South Korea takes on the Asian drug cartel. An investigator infiltrates the criminal gang and befriends a low-level thug who seeks revenge (keyword there) against his boss. Can’t really go wrong with this one.
Sunset in My Hometown
A South Korean musical drama isn’t what we’ve come to expect, let alone one that centers around rap, but this could very well be Korea’s answer to Straight Outta Compton.
Be With You
With a synopsis straight out of a Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation) script, Be With You is a romantic fantasy about a widowed father whose wife promised to return before she passed away. A year later she does exactly that, but can’t seem to remember anything. Either it’s a ghost story or first time director Jang-Hoon Lee is about to pull some long lost twin bullshit on us.
After tackling the zombie film with Train to Busan, acclaimed director Yeon Sang-ho has produced the first ever South Korean superhero movie for Netflix. A security guard gaining superpowers by drinking from a fountain that had been hit by a meteor is just the bonkers premise we need to antidote all these American superheroes who take themselves so damn seriously.
A quieter, simpler drama to contrast all the senseless acts of revenge, techno thrills, and superhero nonsense. Esom (yes, she goes by one name) stars as a depressed chainsmoker in a touching film that meditates on mental health, addiction, and homelessness. Bring tissues.