Movie Reviews - 2018 postsWednesday January 09, 2019
Movie Review: They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
The light bulb went off for me when I saw “Road to Perdition” starring Tom Hanks in 2002. At one point, Hanks’ character, a Chicago mobster, drives through downtown Chicago circa 1931, and it’s not a backdrop, and they’re not filming in neighborhoods that evoke the era. Through computer technology, they resurrected the past. “Oh,” I thought, “CGI isn’t limited to sci-fi futuristic stuff. It can restore history.”
In a more immediate way, director Peter Jackson has done that here.
In 2014, Imperial War Museums, a British institution, asked Jackson if he could create a documentary for the centenary of the end of World War I, Nov. 11, 1918. The museum had 100 hours of footage from the 1910s and 600 hours of interviews with surviving war vets from the ’60s and ’70s. To hear him tell it—in a half-hour “making of” doc that follows this 99-minute doc—he mulled it over for a while. He didn’t want to do it unless he could do something new.
The footage was silent, of course. It was old, scratched, and some of it was just copies of copies. Like most films of the era, it also looked comically sped-up. Our current standard is 24 frames per second. The standard back then was 16 frames a second, but Jackson soon discovered it wasn’t even that simple. Many film cameras were hand-cranked, so the speed depended upon how fast the cameraman twirled the lever. In order to bring them up to the current standard and look natural, each film had to be adjusted individually.
Ultimately, he and his team at Wingnut Studios tried an experiment: How good could they make a segment of film if they cleaned it up and adjusted the speed? And how about if they colorized it? Jackson is against colorizing movies generally, but that’s an artistic integrity argument; here, he wanted to see the men as they saw themselves.
The result is astonishing. It's the past restored.
Not in Kansas anymore
The title of the documentary comes from the fourth stanza of Laurence Binyon’s poem “For the Fallen,” about the men who died during World War I:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
According to IMDb, Jackson switched up the “grow not old” line to avoid a Yoda-ish cadence, but it also makes it more of a declaration, doesn’t it? It makes it more of a crime. Political leaders and emperors ensured that millions would not grow old; Jackson and his team brought them back to life.
Immediate thought as I was watching: Can we do this with other footage of the era? Baseball movies? Chaplin films? I assume we can. It’s just a matter of time and money and will. Mostly money. It just depends how much we care about the past. (Answer: not much, sadly.)
Some of the shots are truly astonishing: horses killed; men dying in trenches, covered in insects. Also the ordinary: the look upon soldiers as they realize they’re being filmed. As Jackson says in the post-doc, film was such a new medium, and the act of filming so rarely seen, that they didn’t know what to do. The tendency was to do what one did with photography: stand still. Waving at the camera wasn’t a thing yet. “Hi, mom,” was half a century away.
One young man—you can see him in the trailer—turns to his comrades and says with a smile, “Hey boys, here it comes. We’re in the pictures,” then laughs, and the work that went into that little bit, and all the audio in the doc, is equally astonishing. First, Jackson hired lip readers to figure out what was being said; then he and his team researched which outfit was what, and where its men were from; then he hired voice actors from that region.
As in the trailer, the movie begins with a small black-and-white box that expands until it fills the entire screen. But the footage is still a bit choppy, and it’s still in black and white. it’s only when we arrive at the battlefield that the full effect takes place—that we enter into their world. It’s like “The Wizard of Oz” in this way, but an Oz of blunt reality rather than fantasy.
With such a technological feat as this, so beautifully realized, and done pro bono, it would take a real asshole to quibble with it.
Here I go.
Again, from IMDb:
It was a deliberate choice not to identify the soldiers or battlegrounds as that would ground the film in too many facts and slow it down. Instead, the desire was to make this about the experience of being a soldier.
I think this was a mistake. Individuals, and individual stories, are lost. Everything becomes part of the mass. It’s like reading an oral history that’s been stripped of who stays what, and when, and with no overarching narrative. I’m a detail man; I wanted the details rather than the generalities. The details that Jackson worked on technologically should‘ve been worked on narratively.
I get, too, that Jackson had 600 hours of commentary to choose from, and he wanted to fit in what he could; he wanted us to hear their voices. But the narration winds up feeling somewhat relentless. I wanted a little more silence. I wanted to absorb more of what I was seeing. Ironic, given these are silent films.
A long way to Tukwila
Even so, if you have the opportunity to see “They Shall Not Grow Old,” don’t hesitate. It’s being parceled out in movie theaters—a week’s showing here, a day’s showing there, so blink and you miss it. Next show in Seattle is apparently January 21. No, not starting January 21. Just January 21. In December, Patricia and I drove all the way to Tukwila to see it; Seattle theaters were already booked.
I’m glad there’s such interest. Most of us forget the past too quickly; Americans are particularly bad at this. Jackson and his team have put it right in front of us. They’ve made ghosts of long ago seem you like or me. We’re in the pictures.
Movie Review: Aquaman (2018)
Hey, it’s not awful! Why isn’t it?
The first and biggest reason is Jason Momoa. He’s handsome, built like a rock (or The Rock), and he’s got a fun recklessness in his eyes. You imagine him as someone who most comes alive when doing dangerous things.
The second reason is the hero’s journey. OK, so it’s a stupid hero’s journey. Arthur Curry/Aquaman begins it a hero (single-handedly rescuing Russian sailors from a hijacked submarine), and ends it with a dull job (King of Atlantis), and the only reason he succeeds is because of weaponry. In the 1981 bomb, “The Legend of the Lone Ranger,” the title character, recovering from an attack, is shooting his pistol but keeps missing the target; so Tonto suggests using silver for his bullets since silver is pure. My father back then: “Who knew the Lone Ranger used silver bullets because he was such a lousy shot?” You can ask a similar rhetorical question here: Who knew Aquaman needed his gold trident because he couldn’t win a fair fight with his half-brother?
Overall, too, Aquaman’s heroic journey is less journey than treasure hunt. Go here, do this, which will tell you to go there and do that, which will tell you ... etc. Arthur Curry’s journey takes him from the Sahara Desert to Sicily to the middle of the Atlantic and then through a wormhole to a pristine beach at the center of the Earth. What, you thought the center of the earth was fire and lava? Nah. More like Maui.
Something else that makes “Aquaman” not horrible? The villain isn’t exactly wrong. (Cf., “Black Panther,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” and “Incredibles 2.”) Yes, Orm (Patrick Wilson), the next would-be ruler of Atlantis, makes it seem surface dwellers are attacking Atlantis in order to justify a war. But his first act is to create tidal waves all over the world that wash up all the garbage we dumped in the ocean. We get our trash back. Not a bad move. The movie should’ve lingered more on this garbage. It should’ve been food for thought as we shoveled popcorn into our pieholes, then dropped the buckets onto the sticky theater floor.
To the story. In 1985, Atlanna (Nicole Kidman, CGIed well), queen of Atlantis, washes up on the rocks of a Maine lighthouse and is rescued by its lighthouse keeper, Thomas Curry (Temuera Morrison of “Once Were Warriors,” CGIed creepily), who nurses her back to health. Love and a child follow. But then soldiers of Atlantis find her, and she returns to the sea in order to keep secret her half-human kid. She's killed anyway for the transgression. The boy grows up motherless.
He also grows up to be Jason Momoa, all buff and tatted and half-fish. He can communicate with underwater creatures—demonstrated in a great scene at an aquarium when two boys try to pick on him and a giant shark almost breaks through the glass to take them on. An even better scene? He and his dad at a bar, and four or five toughs gather around asking if he’s “Aqua boy.” He stands and confronts them: “Aquaman,” he corrects. An ass-whupping seems imminent. Instead, the lead tough asks, “Can we get a selfie?” Then we see a series of selfies from the evening as men and Aquaman get deeper and deeper into their cups.
After that, the tidal wave, and the appearance of Princess Mera (Amber Heard), who wants AM to return Atlantis to reclaim his birthright and end the war. Doesn’t go as planned. He’s seen as an interloper, a bastard, and a mongrel. Orm challenges him to a duel, defeats him, and only doesn’t kill him because Mera springs into action and the two escape and begin their treasure hunt to get the original trident of Atlantis. So Aquaman can win the fight.
A few questions at this point:
- Why Maine? Momoa is from Hawaii, Morrison from an island in New Zealand. Why not one of those? Because the filmmakers needed cold and gray? Because cold and gray is cooler? Dudes, I live in Seattle. That shit ain't cool.
- What’s with all these kingdoms in comics? Why no democracies? Asgard, Themyscira, Wakanda, Atlantis. If they’re all so advanced, how come they're relying on kings and queens? Or are we wrong?
- And who’d want to rule Atlantis? Those dudes are assholes. I haven’t heard “half-breed” shouted so much since Cher sang it.
- And what’s with the hair? Millennia ago, Atlanteans were surface dwellers; then a power surge sank their kingdom and gave them the power to adapt. Yet everyone kept hair? Underwater? Is no one evolving? Is that why no democracy, either?
Another question: Shouldn’t they get weaker away from water? Like when walking in the desert? That’s part of the heroic journey but neither Aquaman nor Mera seem to suffer at all.
Just before the war with the crustaceans
In the center of the earth, Aquaman is reunited with Moms, who, sure, was destined for execution; but she survived. AM then gets the trident, and they all return for a giant battle Orm has started with ... no, not us. Not yet. It’s with the crustaceans. Yeah, doesn’t make sense in the movie, either. In the midst, Aquaman and Orm fight again, this time Aquaman wins (natch), but he shows mercy and spares Orm’s life (natch). And Arthur Curry is crowned the new King of Atlantis.
Wait, since Atlanna is alive, shouldn’t she be the ruler? Or is Atlantis a patriarchy on top of all its other problems?
“Aquaman,” directed by James Wan (“Saw,” “The Conjuring”), is monumentally stupid, but it has something. I guess it’s personality, which, as Jules said, goes a long way. The one thing the DC universe has done well—really the only thing it’s done well—is casting: Cavill as Superman, Gadot as Wonder Woman, Momoa here. Now if they can just work on literally everything else.
Movie Review: VICE (2018)
I had high hopes for “Vice” after seeing the trailer a few months ago. Hopes were dimmed after certain reviewers slammed the movie for not being critical enough of the Bush/Cheney era; then they were buoyed again when author Rick Perlstein and former terrorism czar Richard Clarke weighed in positively via social media:
Just watched VICE, the Cheney movie. I thought it really was Cheney and not Christian Bale. And I used to work with Cheney. An amazing job. Sam Rockwell as W was also spot on. Only a great script and acting could tell this story. #VICEmovie— Richard A Clarke (@richardclarke) December 27, 2018
Sadly, I’m with the critics. “VICE” feels disjoined from the start and never quite finds its stride. It keeps lurching. It begins in 1963, catapults us to the White House Situation Room on 9/11, then back to Cheney’s drunken, ne’er-do-well days in ’63. From there, it mostly stays chronological but with a few, odd jumps back into the Bush White House. Like the scene where’s he’s eating a Danish and jokes about eating healthy? And then it’s back to whatever it was—the ’70s or’80s? What the fuck?
The narrative innovations that felt effortless, charming and clarifying in writer-director Adam McKay’s previous film, “The Big Short,” feel forced here—like Naomi Watts showing up as a faux Fox News broadcaster. The worst may be the narration that frames the movie. The narrator is Kurt from Pennsylvania (Jesse Plemons), who says he’s close to Cheney. Almost related, he says. The big reveal is that Kurt (RIP) is Cheney’s 2012 heart donor. That’s the connection. It adds nothing.
12 years a turnaround
What did I learn about Dick Cheney watching this? That he was a Yale dropout with a drinking problem who had his share of bar fights and DWIs. The impetus for straightening up and flying right was his wife, Lynne (Amy Adams), who lays down the law to her deadbeat husband: Make something of yourself because, as a woman in 1963, I’m not allowed; make something of yourself or I’m gone. So he does. Boom. In fiction, this kind of turnaround would make me roll my eyes, but it works here because: 1) we know where he’s heading, and 2) Amy Adams just nails the scene.
Twelve years later, Cheney is White House Chief of Staff. Wow. How the fuck did that happen?
It’s kind of a blur, but basically Cheney (Christian Bale, outstanding) becomes a congressional aide and then rides the coattails of Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carrell), portrayed here as outgoing, jovial, ribald—and at odds with Nixon’s men. This turns out to be a boon. Since he’s not an inside man, since he’s physically relegated to Belgium, he’s untainted by Watergate. As a result, after Nixon resigns and Nixon’s men go to prison, there’s not many top GOP guys left, and Ford taps him as chief of staff. When Rummy becomes Secretary of Defense, it’s Cheney’s turn. He’s only 34.
Looking at pictures from the period, they probably make Cheney too fat too fast, but maybe they had to; maybe he was still too handsome otherwise. It really is astonishing that the man who played Batman so well could play Dick Cheney even better.
Is height a problem? Bale is listed as 6’ while Cheney is 5’ 8”. Meanwhile, George W. is 6’ but the man who plays him, Sam Rockwell, is 5’ 8”. It’s all reversed. Combine it with Bale’s bulk and Rockwell’s wispiness and Cheney seems to dominate Bush all the more. It works metaphorically but probably too much. I imagine W. stood his ground now and again.
The movie implies the Cheneys expected Ford to win in ’76, which is odd, since he was polling behind from the get-go. It suggests Cheney was a dull candidate for U.S. rep who probably would’ve lost if he hadn’t had a heart attack, which allowed Lynne to campaign dynamically in his stead. As Wyoming’s sole U.S. rep from 1979 to 1989, it shows us various nefarious votes he cast—such as against making Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday. That’s true; he voted against in 1979. It’s also misleading since he voted in favor of it in 1983 when it passed. To use the Rovian nomenclature, he flip flopped.
I like the false end-credits sequence in the middle of the movie, in which Cheney and wife live out the rest of their days in Virginia, raising golden retrievers. But then the phone call. There’s a lot of these “If not for this, history would’ve been different” moments, but the movie ignores the biggest. Why did Bush 41 tap Cheney, the House Minority Whip, for defense secretary? In the movie, it just happens. But Cheney wasn’t Bush’s first choice—former U.S. Sen. John Tower (R-TX) was, but he got shot down by his Senate colleagues because of allegations of drunkenness and adultery, and the Bush team needed a clean candidate. Despite the DWIs, that was Cheney. More irony: I remember Dems back then crowing about defeating Tower, but two things happened as a result:
- Dick Cheney was catapulted to national prominence
- Newt Gingrich became House Minority Whip
Thank you, sir, may I have another?
Much of the movie feels like a primer on the era and may be necessary for people who didn't live through it or weren't paying attention: Bush v. Gore, Cheney’s power grab, 9/11, run-up to Iraq, the Iraq war, the torture of Iraqis, Fox-News, etc. chest beating. The movie crystalizes a lot of what went wrong in this country: right-wing money leading to right-wing think tanks leading to right-wing policies which are trumpeted by right-wing propaganda machines—creating a world in which the rich get richer and most of us got screwed. And most of the screwed keep voting for the screwers.
I like that McKay shows us the consequences of our actions. Nixon decides to bomb Cambodia and we see shots of a Cambodian village—before and after. A similar instance with Iraq is overdone—Bush’s twitching leg beneath the Oval Office desk tied to the twitching leg of the terrified Iraqi father under the table—but cutaways to scenes of torture of Iraqi prisoners are truly powerful.
The Valerie Plame affair is a blip: referenced, gone, along with Scooter Libby (Justin Kirk). Rumsfeld’s firing, too, seems to take place in a vacuum, but it was a direct consequence of the GOP losing the midterms in 2006. Would the movie have been better to have focused on one or two of Cheney’s relationships? Maybe just Rumsfeld? The student becoming the master and betraying his former master? As is, it’s scattershot. It’s warm family man vs. cold, calculating pol. The more he moves into history, the more unknowable he becomes.
Bale, at least, is monumental; I can’t recall an actor nailing such a well-known figure. That said, his decision to improvise Cheney breaking the fourth wall and giving us, in essence, Jack Nicholson’s “You want me on that wall” speech from “A Few Good Men,” feels like a mistake. Particularly where it was placed—near the end of the movie. We wind up lurching from the left-wing POV to the right with no intervening clarity. We long for a signal but “VICE” simply descends into noise. It ends with a focus group yelling at each other about, and then physically fighting over, Trump. Adam, I could get that on Twitter for free.
Movie Review: People's Republic of Desire (2018)
The girl in the poster looks trapped and she is. She’s Shen Man, a live-streaming star on YY.com, a Chinese social network that launched in 2005 mostly for gamers, then relaunched in the 2010s for a wider audience. I still don’t quite get it, to be honest. It has something called “hosts,” and fans follow these hosts. Some give them virtual gifts, which are somehow translated into real money, and in this way the hosts can make a living and even become rich. Sometimes the hosts have huge financial backers and if they’re popular enough (or financially backed enough?) they can enter an annual 15-day contest to determine who’s “best.”
How is best determined? By wittiest? Funniest? Sexiest?
By votes. Except you can also buy votes. And the richer you are the more votes you can buy. Think of it as American democracy after Citizens United, with Chinese versions of the Koch brothers solely interested in promoting this or that YY.com host rather than directing governmental policy. Why do they do it? Because they’re bored? Because it brings them status? Who knows? Director Wu Hao only talks to a few financial backers.
That’s my main complaint. I wanted a wider vision. I wanted more explanations as to the absurdities going on in front of me.
At the least, YY.com is aptly named. Watching, I kept going “Why? Why?”
Start with the two hosts who make up the brunt of the doc.
Shen Man is a former nurse who’s had cosmetic surgery to look prettier, but she’s still no Zhao Xun. She flirts with and whines to her fans, and has tens of thousands of followers, some of whom are encouraging, some of whom are just assholes (“Show us your tits,” etc.). Big Li, meanwhile, is always referred to as “a comic” but in the many times we hear him hosting his live-streaming show, I think I laughed maybe once. Mostly he cajoles and complains and cheerleads. For what exactly? For him—and his audience. They’re a kind of a team—the downtrodden and ignored. The way I root for the Seattle Mariners, Chinese provincials root for Big Li. Similarly, he disappoints.
How did they get to this position in the first place? I’m not sure. I don’t think they’re sure. A wider vision, maybe showing us marginal hosts with only a handful of fans, would at least give us something to compare to. But I get the feeling Shen Man and Big Li are where they are because they were first. The first ones through the wall may get bloody, per “Moneyball,” but the first ones through the technological door don’t have to be particularly talented. See early movie, radio and TV stars. See the early stars of YouTube and Instagram.
Fame and fortune don’t exactly make them happy, either. Shen Man winds up supporting her father, who comes to live with her. Big Li visits his relatives in the provinces and promises to make them all proud. It’s like he’s talking to his fanbase rather than his family.
Their isolation increases. We see them in their apartments and live-streaming from their apartments, and that’s about it. As the movie progresses, each gets more sallow and unhealthy. We long for them to get outside. We long for us to get outside.
The doc is bookended by two “best of” competitions. In the first, Shen Man wins without much effort but Big Li is blindsided by a new competitor, Picasso, with a wealthy patron. The loss doesn’t bring out the best in him. He spends months licking his wounds, then plans a comeback with his own wealthy benefactor. Doesn’t help. In the second 15-day competition, not only does Picasso swamp him but he falls into massive debt— something like a million dollars—because he owes his benefactor some percentage of the votes bought for him ... or something. Either way, he's ruined. We flash back to the beginning of the doc, with Li, a former migrant worker, riding through Beijing in the backseat of a town car, smoking a cigar and wearing shades, and feeling full of himself. We expected comeuppance but not a million dollars worth.
In her match, Shen Man loses, too, but she’s smarter, or more risk-averse, and drops out sooner. But she’s still distraught; her self-worth is gone. At the end of the doc, talking to her fans, those men who often encourage her to take off her clothes, she finally reveals herself—not without clothes but without makeup. It’s the movie’s one healthy act.
“People’s Republic of Desire” does what documentaries are supposed to do: It gave me a glimpse into a world I know nothing about. It's also a world I know everything about. It’s about the desire for wealth and fame, yes, but at bottom it’s about loneliness and isolation. It’s about the urge to connect, and how social media taps into this urge and never assuages it. Social media is to connection like salt water is to thirst. We drink and we drink, and we wonder why we keep getting thirstier.
Movie Review: Burning (2018)
Writer-director Lee Chang-dong’s last film, “Poetry,” was about the horrific death of a girl that happens off-stage. We never see the girl but we hear about her rape and death, and we see the blasé and calculating reactions of the people responsible. We also watch the old woman who tries to make it matter; who tries to truly see the girl even though she’s never met her.
“Burning” is also about the death of a girl that happens off-stage. And not only do we not see it happen, we really don’t even know if it happens.
Consider it an arthouse version of a revenge thriller. The revenge happens clumsily—not to mention less-than-heroically—at the 11th hour, and we’re not sure if it’s necessary. Traditional revenge movies are all about certitude and satisfaction. This leaves us with nothing but questions.
We first see her outside a department store, dressed in a cute, midriff-baring outfit, with another cute girl, involved in a kind of raffle. They’re drumming up business; that’s why they’re out there. It’s about a minute into the movie, and we’ve followed Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in), smoking a cigarette in an alley and onto this delivery. He’s thick-lipped, with an expression halfway between numb and stunned. He wants to be a writer but doesn’t know how to start. “To me, the world is a mystery,” he says later. It doesn't get clearer.
Initially, Haemi (newcomer Jeon Jong-seo) is a pleasant mystery. She eyes him, flirts with him. Hey, he wins the raffle! It’s a pink woman’s wristwatch. In an alleyway, smoking cigarettes, he gives it to her.
Turns out they know each other from their small village, and soon she’s taking him back to her tiny apartment. Does he sense something off about her? We do. Like an increasing number of young Korean girls, she’s had plastic surgery, and in her apartment she talks about that time in eighth grade when he crossed the street to tell her she was ugly. You think it’s a comeuppance moment: You thought I was ugly, now I’m pretty and flirting with you but you can’t have any of this. Bye. Instead she kisses him, sleeps with him. In their relationship, he’s quiet and passive; she does all the heavy lifting.
Then she’s off for a trek to Africa and he’s left to care for a cat he never sees. He arrives, fills the now-empty dish, then masturbates standing up. He’s biding time until she returns.
When she does, she does so with another boy, Ben (Steven Yuen), who is cordial enough but mostly smug, superior, amused. On the phone, he mentions something about his superior genes. In the audience, we do a double take. Did he really say that? It’s either a bad joke or a worse reality. We quickly suspect the latter.
All definitions are lost, and Jong-su doesn’t know how to ask the right questions to bring them back. Are he and Haemi a couple? Are Haemi and Ben? What’s his role? Even so, he keeps hanging out with them—he never sees her alone again—and the places they’re hanging out get ritzier, with more and more of Ben’s high-end friends. You know that scene in “High Fidelity” when Charlie Nicholson (Catherine Zeta-Jones) has John Cusack over, and there’s a dinner party in progress? “Everybody, this is Rob,” she says. “Rob, this is everybody.” This is like that. Our protagonists aren’t part of the crowd.
The key moment occurs at Jong-su’s father’s ranch. When he first goes there, we hear some awful, tinny noise in the background, and I’m thinking “Is that North Korean propaganda?” It is. The ranch is right on the Demilitarized Zone. Jong-su is looking after the rundown ranch because his father is in prison for attacking another man. His father, it seems, has a tendency to explode. We wonder if it runs in the family.
On the porch, the three smoke pot and Haemi takes off her top and twirls and dances; then she passes out on the couch. To Jong-su, Ben confesses a pastime: he likes to burn greenhouses. He’ll find an abandoned greenhouse nobody wants and torch it. “You can make it disappear as if it never existed,” he says. He says he has his eye on a greenhouse near Jong-su’s place. Jong-su looks around. Near? Very near, Ben says.
For a while, we see Jong-su running up and down the dirt roads near his father’s place, checking on all the greenhouses. Is he trying to protect them? Is he waiting until one burns up so he can alert the cops and get Ben out of the way? What he’s doing isn’t exactly proactive.
At what point do we suspect he's already lost? When he can’t get in touch with Haemi? As she was leaving his father’s place, he chastised her for dancing in front of them topless, saying only whores do that, and we suspect her absence is related to that. But then he can’t find her at her apartment, either. She's disappeared. Plus the landlord says she never had a cat and he can’t find evidence of the one he fed all those weeks. Did he merely dream the cat? The whole thing becomes dreamy, or nightmarish, with Ben is at the center of it. But Ben never reveals himself as such. He stays cordial, distant, supercilious. He’s always seems amused by Jong-su’s efforts.
And he has a new cat.
You can make it disappear as if it never existed.
Revenge is a dish
Any thoughts on the false ending? Jong-su does his amateur investigations and doesn’t get far, but far enough to strongly suspect Ben killed Haemi. Then he settles behind his computer screen and types. We see him from outside his window, and the camera pans back, and we get the building, and more and more of the city. It’s a classic ending shot, but it would leave most everything unresolved. Was Jong-su writing about Haemi? Ben? Was it fiction? Is this the way he finally becomes a writer—via this horrible mystery?
But the movie keeps going, and the son becomes the father. Jong-su explodes. He and Ben meet on a lonely wintry road, and as Ben is about to take control of the conversation again, Jong-su knifes him in the gut. Initially I was so confused that I thought it was the other way, that Ben had knifed Jong-su, but no. It’s our guy doing the deed. Then he stuffs Ben in his sports car and sets the thing on fire. He makes a thing disappear as if it never existed.
Shivering, naked for having disrobed and burned his bloody clothes, he drives away in his beat-up truck. And that’s the end.
Steven Yuen as Ben is getting acclaim from American critics groups, deservedly, but Jeon Jong-seo really anchored the movie for me. She anchored it with how off she was—in a breezy, believable way. It’s her first role.
“Burning” was a little too long for me, a little too dreamy. My mind began to drift. Was that Lee’s intention? It actually makes you want to watch the film a second time. To see what you’ve missed. I like thinking about it, though. The more I think about it, the more I like it.