A beginner’s guide to the films of Lee Chang-dong

A celebrated academic and novelist prior to his directing career, Lee Chang-dong came to filmmaking relatively late in life, making his first feature in his forties. What unites all of his films is their extensive portraits of characters often at the mercy of circumstances beyond their control, be they societal and historical developments in his native South Korea, debilitating illnesses, or some omnipresent force that seems out to get them. As evidenced in his brilliant latest, Burning, Lee is unafraid to confront the ugliness of human nature. To celebrate the film’s release, we’ve put together a handy primer of his previous directorial efforts…

Full feature for Little White Lies

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Steven Yeun and Lee Chang-dong on thriller ‘Burning’

Arriving eight years after previous film Poetry, Korean director Lee Chang-dong’s Burning left last year’s Cannes without any competition prizes but with perhaps the most ardent critical support of any movie to premiere there in 2018. Much of the film’s pleasure comes from how it slowly reveals its mysteries, so it’s best to keep any plot details to a minimum. All we’ll say is that it concerns a young man, Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in), reconnecting with and developing feelings for a girl from his youth, Hae-mi (newcomer Jun Jong-seo). He agrees to look after her cat while she’s abroad in Africa. When she comes back, she’s accompanied by a mysterious companion, Ben (Steven Yeun), a wealthy man with a proclivity for pyromania that may be a cover for something more sinister…

Full interview for The Skinny

1985 (Yen Tan, 1985)

In 1987, a group of gay activists in New York formed the Silence = Death Project, which began with the plastering of posters around the city featuring a pink triangle against a black background with the statement ‘Silence = Death’ below it. The group’s manifesto addressed the ongoing AIDS crisis, declaring that the silence about the oppression and annihilation of gay people must be broken as a matter of survival. Their logo would later be offered to the protest group ACT UP, with which it remains closely identified, as recently seen in Robin Campillo’s film, 120 BPM. Alongside the calling out of other institutional forces like the Vatican and the Food and Drug Administration, the Silence = Death Project’s original poster also included the question “Why is Reagan silent about AIDS?”.

Set two years before this project’s launch, 1985’s writer-director Yen Tan uses silence to address both the stigmatisation of the Reagan administration and the growing AIDS epidemic. The words “gay” and “AIDS” are never spoken onscreen, but their significance looms large over this muted, moving drama, where the only real ostentatious quality is the decision to shoot it in black and white and on Super 16mm film…

Full review for VODzilla.co