The film Burning (Lee Chang-dong, 2018) is one of the most noted Korean films in recent years as a work that unfolds an elaborate narrative in a delicate visualization. This film is a multi-vocal text in which different types of characters appear and scattered objective facts and ambiguous subjective desires are intertwined, so it is a text that has room for diverse interpretations. This article attempts to read Burning as an ethical discourse centered on the protagonist Jong-su, noting that the film raises universal and significant ethical issues that transcend the specific social and historical conditions of a contemporary Korean youth. I would like to examine the situation in which Jong-su is facing and his reaction to it, above all, from the perspective of Jong-su’s ethical awakening and leap forward.
Jong-su, a young South Korean non-regular man living in the present, encounters and connects with Hae-mi and Ben and attempts to understand the mysteries of the world. His trajectory, which the film shows closely, inevitably intersects the social and historical dimension of confusion and frustration of a young man graduated from the Department of Creative Writing, the reality of family dissolution and the individual psychological dimension of the sudden disappearance of his lover Hae-mi.
Burning is a magistrate film that depicts Jong-su as an ethical subject oriented toward ‘communal togetherness’ while confronting the world and exploring its mysteries despite all his unfavorable conditions, such as his social position of the precariat youth and the epistemological uncertainty of reality perception. It is read as a story of his painful growth, in which Jong-su is becoming a ‘writer’, who once was a helpless non-regular delivery worker.