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Burning

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Burning Movie Poster Image
Slow, enigmatic character study with nudity, violence.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 148 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Bleak character study presents ultimately negative examples of people who don't have real friendships or family support, which could be used as an example of how important both of these are to personal happiness. Some iffy beauty messages from dancing girls being used to attract customers to stores, and when Hae-mi says she had plastic surgery to become beautiful.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jong-su is emotionally mysterious, but he's also likable. He does what he has to when his father runs into trouble, and helps out an old friend. But he commits a terrible crime for revenge. Ben is very mysterious and possibly a sociopath. Hae-mi is a free spirit but financially unstable, and also hard to know and mysterious.

Violence

Almost none except for one strong sequence that shows a fight and stabbing from middle distance. Blood is visible, repeated stabbing is simulated outside the camera frame, there's a dying embrace, and a lot of blood smears visible on a car, clothing, and bare legs. A body is put in a car and the car is set on fire after being doused with gasoline. A dream sequence shows a large structure fire. A court hearing mentions a fight and injuring a government official. 

Sex

A couple kiss with tongue and take off their tops. A woman's bare breasts are fully visible and shown being caressed. Putting on a condom is simulated outside the camera frame, and simulated sex shows thrusting and kissing from the chest up. Several scenes show simulated masturbation and one scene simulates manual stimulation in a dream. Female breasts and male buttocks are shown. A couple make out in the background.

Language

"Butt," "whores," and one "f--k." Bonus features show a crew member with the word "f--kin" on a baseball hat.

Consumerism

Lots of incidental food and beverage products with labels in Korean. One box of Marlboro cigarettes shown.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Main characters, probably of legal age in Korea, drink wine and beer, mostly with meals or socially; excess isn't shown. Several scenes take place in bars. One cocktail-party scene. The main characters smoke marijuana once and become very giggly. Main characters and background action frequently show cigarette smoking. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Burning is a long, slow character study in Korean with English subtitles that has strong sexual content and a bloody act of violence. There's a scene that simulates sex and shows a woman's bare breasts and a few scenes that show simulated masturbation. No other sensitive parts or explicit acts are shown on screen. The only direct violence is a stabbing with smears of blood and burning the body in a car. The main characters frequently smoke cigarettes and smoke marijuana once. Wine and beer frequently appear with meals and socializing, and several scenes take place in bars. There's one instance of "f--k." The three main characters live lonely, isolated lives, so it can be a good opportunity to talk about how things might be different without close ties to friends and family.

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What's the story?

In BURNING, Jong-su (Ah-in Yoo) reconnects with childhood friend Hae-mi (Jong-seo Jun) just before she takes off on vacation to Africa. Jong-su finds himself pining after Hae-mi while she's gone, and is excited to pick her up at the airport when at last she gets back to Seoul. But Jong-su's dreams of romance will have to wait when Hae-mi shows up with the mysterious Ben (Steven Yeun) in tow. When Hae-mi suddenly disappears, Jong-su's convinced Ben has something to do with it and sets out to find her.

Is it any good?

At right around 2 and a half hours, this quiet, slow-paced character study offers a lot of food for thought while keeping the audience at arm's length. The slow pace, isolated lives, and enigmatic characters make it hard to make an emotional connection with Burning. It does provoke some thought about why we live the way we do, how that affects us, and what the consequences are of living cut off, if only emotionally, from other people.

The absorbing story, thoughtful direction, and talented acting manage to hold the viewer's interest, drawing you in despite not being able to feel a real connection to the characters. The ending isn't really an ending, and contributes to a sense of unease, but also encourages thought about where the story might go from there. Strong sexual content, adult themes, and rare but strong violence make it best for oldest teens and up.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the sex in Burning. How much is OK to show in movies? Why?

  • What about all the cigarette smoking? Is it realistic? What about the scene where they smoke marijuana? What are the possible consequences of smoking either one?

  • What kind of effect did the violent scene have on you? How much violence is OK to show in movies?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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