Monthly Archives: June 2021

  • Burning Lee Chang-dong (Korea;2018;)

    Burning           Lee Chang-dong (Korea;2018;) Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, Jeon Jong-seo.

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 6th June 2021; ticket £7

    No where land; nowhere man

    There’s a Beetles Song written by John Lennon that features on ‘Rubber Soul’ called Nowhere Man. After viewing Chang-dong’s Burning, I thought of this song. It seemed a perfect fit for ‘Burning’, a film representing S Korea as a nowhere land, full of no-where people.

    Early in the film, after Shin and Lee meet up again (they have sort of known each other as children, though nothing in Chang-dong’s film is ever certain) Lee takes her out for a meal. At the table she talks to Lee about hunger, asking him if he has Big Hunger or ‘Great Hunger’. He looks at her. He doesn’t get what she means by ‘Great Hunger’. In response she throws her arms wide open, swings them round in gesticulation. ‘Great Hunger’ is Hunger for Life itself. She says she has ‘Great Hunger’. It doesn’t seem as if Lee shares this, but Shin understands something about herself and as a way of honouring her ‘Great Hunger’ she decides to visit Africa: perhaps this continent will feed her need for meaning in life.   ‘Big Hunger’ isn’t fed in Korea.

    In ‘Burning’ S Korea is a land of the dead, a land voided of meaning. As Chang-dong surveys S Korea he represents it as a bottomless chasm, an emptied vacuous culture. When you look and try to see what’s there, there’s nothing to see: it’s a land of indeterminacy.   Neither one thing nor another, a land that has had its heritage, its past stripped out, and overlaid with the thin veneer of an American consumerist ethos. A two dimensional place made up of surfaces.

    The script develops the idea that Korean society is suspended in a state of superposition, in a quantum state of indeterminacy where existence and inexistence depend on interaction with an observer.   The characters come and go without making any impression on life: Lee’s mother, Lee’s father, Shin herself, and even Ben. The characters exist in the same condition as Schrodinger’s cat shut up in its box: no one knows if they’re alive or dead. Without an observer their status is indeterminate, and Korea is a place where no one looks.   There are no observers.

    The direct reference to this state of superposition in Chang-dong’s film is Shin’s cat called Boil, whom Lee agrees to feed whilst Shin is away in Africa. But Lee never sees Boil: no matter how much he looks for the cat in Shin’s tiny room he can’t find it. Later at a point where he is not looking for it, Boil appears, and at this moment when observed, its significance can be measured in terms of Shin’s life and death.   Up until this moment Shin’s existence is indeterminate. When she ceases to be present, no one is aware of her ‘not being’, no one looks in the box: her friends, the people she works with, her church community. They observe no box: she has registered no imprint of her existence with an observer. Except Lee: Lee looks into the box, finds Boil and understands that Shin is dead, murdered.

    ‘Burning’ presents the vistas and interiors of contemporary Korea as nondescript zones, through which the population is in transit. Shin’s room and the view from her window, Ben’s apartment and neighbourhood, the clubs and restaurants the street scene that opens the film: all any spaces whatsoever.

    There is one location of Chang-dongs that is different: his father’s farm which he moves back to when his father is imprisoned for being angry and abusive to a state official. (His father registers as a throwback to another era because in Burning no one evinces emotion. Emotions and expressed feelings are alien states in the new Korea) Lee’s family farm reeks of the past. It’s not a part of the shiny new Korea. It is dilapidated run down, has the look of neglect. But it is real. It is in this setting, the country where the land is still real that Chang-dong introduces the leitmotif of his sound track: the shamanist drum and pipes of an old Korea. This is music that comes up out of the earth.. It calls on anyone who may hear it, to dance, to touch the rhythms of life and death, fire and water. Anything but indeterminacy, the music is real, and response to it immediate.

    Shin is a lost soul, her search to honour her ‘Big Hunger’ leads her to Africa, where even as a tourist she finds something of the energised rhythms of life she seeks.  But her Big Hunger cannot be fed. Corrupted and impoverished she drifts to her death, in the homicidal arms of Ben. And Ben’s is also a twisted being driven by an obsessive invocation of forces of fire and death. Ben’s is mesmerised with setting fire to abandoned greenhouses. His arson creates a series of disturbing images, as when on fire these skeletal structures call to mind the idea of the sacrificial victims trapped in the Wicker Man.   Although not specifically suggested by Burning, the thought occurs that Shin’s body was immolated by Ben, reduced to ashes, in one of these primordial sacrificial fires, whose ribbed frames have a strong anthropomorphic resonance.

    Chang-dong’s movie is slow and oblique building connections and links between script and images. The ancient grounds of Korea have been obliterated overbuilt, but the phantom emanations leak into the culture causing strange aberrations and distortions both to collective and to individual life in this country of modernity.

    adrin neatrour

  • Blade Runner The Final Cut Ridley Scott (USA, 1982)

    Blade Runner  The Final Cut       Ridley Scott (USA, 1982) Harrison Ford; Rutger Hauer; Mary Sean Young.

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle UK; ticket: £7

    passing good

    Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ is a virtuoso statement of filmic style; it’s a style that is underpinned by a strong conceptual vision of not only how the film should look but why it looks as it does.  Ridley Scott’s movie is driven by a number of conceptual and moral imperatives.

    ‘Blade Runner’ opens with a text that establishes simply and immediately the world which the script and scenario will explore and develop.  We read: there is a population of entities, called replicants who are manufactured automata; in look and intelligence they have become indistinguishable from humans. They are used as slave labour to do the dirty work off-earth in other galaxies. It is illegal for these non-persons to be on Earth. Should they be discovered here they are dispatched (retired). The task of Blade Runners is to track down and retire these creatures, who when going amongst us, look no different from us.

    This short prefatory text sets up the framework for the design of Blade Runner: the concept of the vilified dehumanised other, the alien; and the embedded developmental idea of ‘passing’.   Blade Runner is often called dystopian, which may be so but these days it’s an overused term.   What grabs the attention in Syd Mead’s visual design are the polar extremes represented: the dilapidated burnt out shantytown of LA, the rococo antique interiors of the private apartments, the stripped functionality of the offices laboratories and dwellings of the state’s apparatniks. Looking at the development of American cities in the ‘80s, Blade Runner’s richly embroidered high key lighting set, anticipates the development of an urban architectural mode that increasingly favoured the impoverishment and abandonment of public spaces in favour of the enhancement of private space.   The design setting of the movie complements in its polarity the scripts posited existence of two populations: the authentic native earth born and the despised inhuman and dangerous replicants.

    Looking at the economies of most Western developed states, there is a familiar pattern.   The immigrants do the hard repetitive work: agricultural toil, unskilled dangerous construction and demolition, and scrubbing and scraping deep in the steam addled kitchens of the big cities. Mostly ignored and despised, the immigrant is an analogous stand-in for the replicant. Denied by the mainstream population as having the capacity to ‘feel’, denied recognition of their co-existent humanity, this state of mind is basis for our callous even murderous exploitation of immigrants who are seen as little more than our ‘replicants.’ And of course this isn’t some dystopian future, this is our society now and in its post 1945 past.

    For a class of people to be considered in a general way to be sub-human, their voice needs to be suppressed. Because voice provides immediate phenomenological evidence that ‘sub-humans’ have: feelings, emotions, personal and shared histories, memories; that they share these critical attributes of being human with ourselves and employ the same expressive signs as those by which we define ourselves.  And it is the elemental human voices of the replicants that Fancher and Peoples develop in the script: memories personal histories and emotions. Roy’s anger that replicants lives have been exploited twisted and determined by the techno- economic system that created them; Rachael’s ‘love’ her aroused emotional involvement with Deckard. Of course, in terms of a determinist argument that wants to deny the replicant’s humanity, some might argue that the expressive signifiers used by the replicants are simply designs installed and activated by deep programming.   But at this point, the very concept of consciousness starts to become problematic, because are we not all deeply conditioned entities?

    At the opening of the film Scott establishes a familiar stereotypical format: the ennoblement of Deckard the Blade Runner, and the demonization of the replicants who like all revolutionaries take on an aggessive confrontational stance towards the authority that would destroy them (but not of course Rachael who has a sort of honorary white status). The replicants are labeled as dangerous and ruthless. But as the scenario develops we start to see that their response to their situation is all too human They want revenge and its personal, but something more as well. In the plot’s denouement when replicant Roy has Deckard at his mercy there is the moment of absolute truth. Roy’s internal clock is winding down to the preordained time of his death, but he choses not to deliver Deckard the coup de grace. At this moment, Roy realises something about life: that life is precious. And at this moment of life and death, this realisation creates an empathic bond with Deckard: Roy understands that although he must die, Deckard can live; he Roy can give Deckard the gift of life. No one wants to die before their time. The script’s probing of the psycho-social collision of the human and the replicant completes its circuit of logic. The machine returns to the human their own humanity.

    And this same circuitry is part of our contemporary experience.  A logic that poses questions for us through the current rapid development of AI. AI entities in conversations with humans have already passed the ‘Turing Test.’ We can’t necessarily tell if we are speaking to a human or to ‘a machine’. Perhaps some time soon we the humans are going to have to make a decision: to take the direct route and dismantle ‘HAL’ to save ourselves; or to forge another human type relationship with these human-created entities.

    The other dynamic concept driving the script engine is the idea of ‘passing’. Passing refers to regular involvement in social interactions on the basis of a false identity. Good examples are drawn from the world of spying where men such as Philby, Blunt, Mclean, Burgess all working at the heart of MI5 for some 20 years plus, were in fact Soviet Agents regularly reporting back to the KGB. They passed themselves off as loyal Brits. ‘Passing’ in temporarily limited situations is common.   But many individuals who were Gay or Jews or members of many other discriminated groups, whose identity in itself assured vicious social and even murderous discrimination, learnt to pass as straight, Christian etc as a way of living/surviving. The idea of ‘passing’ lies at the core of Blade Runner. It’s embedded in the opening section in which the suspect male replicant is subjected to interrogation using a lie detector type machine that focuses mainly on his involuntary iris dilation.   As this interrogation proceeds, and we understand the process better as Rachael undergoes the same testing, we see that only with the use absurdly complicated equipment can we tell the difference between the replicants and ourselves. We can see them in the street, we can drink with them, make love to them, and we wouldn’t know they were different. Only they know.   We can be fooled as to who they really are. I am reminded of the intensity of the Jewish legislation in Nazi Germany which burrowed back two generations into the heredity of suspected Jews, to validate that they were the Aryans they claimed to be.

    Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ pulls together the insecurities of a new emergent age: issues of identity, issues of the increasing power and claims of machine intelligence. When the movie was made these were ‘ideas of potential’ but clearly seen (by writers such as W. Burroughs) on the event horizon. Blade Runner’s achievement, even today is to frame these emergent realities in a script that is dedicated to the purely filmic, which economically without digression uses film to explore ideas.

    adrin neatrour