'Burning' Director Lee Chang-Dong on His “Ambiguous” Cannes Competition Title

By Noh, Jean | Screen International, May 17, 2018 | Go to article overview

'Burning' Director Lee Chang-Dong on His “Ambiguous” Cannes Competition Title


Noh, Jean, Screen International


The film stars Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, and Jeon Jong-seo.

Lee Chang-dong

When Japanese broadcaster NHK asked Korean auteur Lee Chang-dong to choose and adapt into a film a short story by Haruki Murakami, Lee, whose credits include Cannes award winners Poetry (2009) and Secret Sunshine (2007), saw in 1992’s mysterious Barn Burning something he could expand on with co-writer Oh Jung-mi. Burning stars Steven Yeun, whose credits include The Walking Dead and Okja, as a rich man with a secret hobby. Yoo Ah-in plays a part-time deliveryman and aspiring novelist, while newcomer Jun Jong-seo takes the role of the woman between them. The film was produced by Pinehouse Film, NHK and Now Film Co. Finecut are handling international sales.

What was your focus when you were adapting the short story?

Barn Burning is ambiguous. The film is more specific and contains the reality of the era in Korea these days. But it’s still ambiguous since ‘mystery’ itself is also an important theme in the film. There are a lot of mysteries overlapping in it. Something gets burned in a fire, but was it really burned? And more mysteries are layered on that, which I think is what gives it cinematic tension and could be interesting to audiences who encounter this puzzle

Read more: Burning - Cannes Review

Tell us about the casting.

[My co-writer] Oh Jung-mi recommended Steven Yeun. He was in The Walking Dead and is Korean-American but there’s an interesting sort of veil around his character and the way he looks, which suits [the character of] Ben. He isn’t adept at speaking Korean in everyday circumstances but when he’s acting, he captures the perfect nuances and is very good at emotional expression. He’s a very intelligent actor in the sense that he understands the film and his character in-depth, and communicates well with the director.

How about Yoo Ah-in? …

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