Chang-dong Lee. Chang-dong Lee will soar up this list in future updates when we have some more distance from 2018’s Burning—a film I’ve seen twice now and not only got stronger with that second viewing but grows stronger each day removed from that viewing. But there’s certainly enough in Peppermint Candy and Secret Sunshine to warrant this spot on the list. His work his remarkably consistent (and outstanding) both thematically and visually. Like other modern masters PT Anderson and a rare few others—Chang-dong Lee doesn’t miss either. His debut was Green Fish in 1997 and every film since then is in the archives (6 for 6 to date including Burning in 2018).

Best film: Burning

  • There are three brilliant scenes
  • One of the scenes is the long tracking shot opening as we follow Ah-in Yoo’s character down the street
  • The second transcendent scene/moment, is the long take that floats during her jazz striptease. I’d like to look at my watch when I see it on Blu-ray to see if I’m right- but it feels like it happens about half way through the film which would be a nice touch formally. – that entire scene is great—the Miles Davis—that entire longer scene (not just the epic shot of her dancing) was shot entirely during a beautiful magic hour– one of the scenes of the year
entire longer scene (not just the epic shot of her dancing) was shot entirely during a beautiful magic hour– one of the scenes of the year
  • Based on a South Korean book, but also on Faulkner which is mentioned in the text—as is Gatsby and that’s hard to turn off… adds to the film
  • The three characters are confidently built and so well developed. Ah-in Yoo is stuck, Steven Yeun is the perfect mysterious Gatsby and Jong-seo Jun is both haunted and hypnotic- cries- tortured
  • There’s a lot going on here in the narrative- we have memory as a subject coming up again and again- Ah-in Yoo’s character doesn’t remember her, prank calls, she’s had plastic surgery, she gives the great speech about pantomiming and then she disappearing like a “puff of smoke”
  • Lots of the film is Ah-in Yoo following Yeun’s character- much like Vertigo
  • Very dense and novelist
  • Love the greenhouse burning—there’s a shot of an art gallery in the film where it’s in the background as well
  • Is this the story of a suicidal girl (Jong-seo Jun), the mind of a schizophrenic monster (Ah-in Yoo)? An abductor (Yeun)
  • The third and final transcendent stylistic scene is the final killing oner- wow
  • the score by Mowg is probably the score of the year in 2018
  • there are reoccurring scenes which lines up so well formally- twice, one of Steven Yeun’s girlfriends (guests at the party) tells a story, shows naiveté. First Jong-seo June does it about the bushman and the great hunger and then the next girl (after her disappearance) does it about the Chinese. Ah-in Yoo makes eye contact with Yeun who is yawning. Then he smirks.
  • amazing subtext talking about the burning as a potential code for taking women
  • scenes are purposefully contradictory. Does Jong-seo Jun’s character fall in the well? Yoo’s mom remembers it. Her family says she’s lying. Twice, again Ah-In Yoo doesn’t remember a story from her past- doesn’t recognize her.
  • every nuance is important (or potentially) Trump and immigration on the news, Unemployment rate
  • prank calls, often Chang-dong Lee cuts to Ah-in Yoo waking up- was what just happened before a dream? Does this happen- just before the epic finale are are watching him typing. Is he finally writing? Does the finale happen?
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Chang-dong Lee will soar up this list in future updates when we have some more distance from 2018’s Burning

total archiveable films: 6

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films:   0

top 100 films of the decade:   1 (Burning)

from Burning- the three characters are confidently built and so well developed. Ah-in Yoo is stuck, Steven Yeun is the perfect mysterious Gatsby and Jong-seo Jun is both haunted and hypnotic- cries- tortured

most overrated: Oasis is Chang-dong Lee’s top-rated film on TSPDT (that’ll be overtaken by Burning at some point) and although it’s a fine film- I think Peppermint Candy is far superior and the TSPDT ranking for Oasis (#1128) is too high.

  • It’s a step back after 1999’s Peppermint Candy from Chang-dong Lee but that’s no insult- it’s just a film that’s in  the archives because of the uniquely (and powerfully) told love story and strong performances
  • It is not on the level of 1990’s Cuaron but Chang-dong Lee clearly prefers the color green, the green phone booth, the bars at jail, the railings on the roof—I’d love more- gorgeous- Kieslowski’s color trilogy  clearly an influence with believable color-infused production design—there’s even a hue to the lighting used
  • It’s 10 years before but the love story reminds me of Haneke’s Amour – though it starts off maybe close to the sadistic work of von Trier
  •  Like all of Chang-dong Lee’s work we have a lost protagonist
  • So-Ri Moon’s dedication here should be applauded- like DDL in My Left Work making a character with cerebral palsy work so well- a very good performance
  • Two outcasts victims of their society and family- the title coming as their love is a refuge– the picture on the wall as well
  • Part Dardenne realism but we have moments of magical realism that would never be found in the brothers’ work—the scene of the Indian woman and elephant, the hummingbird, the moments of So-Ri Moon’s character singing and talking/walking
  • Recommend but not in the top 10 of 2002

most underrated Peppermint Candy sits at #1957 on TSPDT—ugh. Vastly underrated.

  • An achievement of film form
  • Chang-dong Lee sets the narrative like Citizen Kane meets Memento (this is only description here as this is 1 year prior to Memento)—the “peppermint candy” is the “Rosebud” if you will – lost innocence told in flashback, but structured in a reverse chronological order like Memento. The interludes are even stronger than Memento– Chang-dong Lee simply cuts to the same reoccurring shot of train tracks—gorgeous work
  • It’s a political film, an anti-war film, a sort of “making of a monster” but here it’s his suicide—spans 20 years, the peppermint candy (a little on the nose) is a bit like the butterflies in All Quiet on the Western Front as well- symbolic-
  • Timeline titles and opens on the train tunnel
  • Bookends with the gathering of friends (haunting coda as it’s the victim)
  • Disillusionment after war/military—it breaks him
  • A freeze frame in the bookends as well- first as the train comes at him, then on his face at the end of the film
  • A mystery with the first viewing—“what drove this man to suicide?”
  • The reoccurring train motif is very inspired—it’s fabulous film form- not just in the great interludes (think Breaking the Wave’s establishing shots) but in the forward moving narrative flashbacks
The reoccurring train motif is very inspired—it’s fabulous film form
  • It’s not as heavy as 1997’s debut Green Fish but Chang-dong Lee loves his use of green—the apron at the barbers, the signs just sitting there in the parking lot, glasses and bottles like Ozu
  • A great tracking shot moving in on a barred window with the naked lovers inside at 75 minutes—Chang-dong Lee doesn’t put style in every shot, but a spot here and there (think middle and end of Burning) to great effect
  • A tragic love story like the other works I’ve seen
  • A great long-take apprehending a criminal as a cop—we’re on the train tracks (yet again) and green forest
  • Kyung-gu Sol is the protagonist- lost, complex (which sometimes looks a little like inconsistency but we’re in good hands with Chang-dong Lee)
  • Like Burning and Green Fish there are short scenes with bursts of great violence – he flips out at a café—starts (as a civilian now) barking military orders—long take- shot behind his head for part of it- clearly PTSD
  • Kyung-gu Sol is a tough hang during that first hour when you’re solving the riddle- mean to kids and dogs
  • Like Burning we have the larger social context here- student protest on TV
  • Great shot from inside the café–  Chang-dong Lee frames the open doors—during this scene he’s teaching a girl how to ride a bike
  • Everyone asks why he became a cop—“you always wanted to be a photographer”- army is coming into view—he’s changed and hardened—disillusioned and corrupted- it’s tragic
  • We get the reveal of the limp (which is the entire film), the horrific climax at the railroad
  • The epilogue is Eden, heaven, the peppermint candy origin—freeze frame ending on face with train noise accentuated like Pacino in The Godfather hinting at the nightmare coming
  • Must-See

gem I want to spotlight : Secret Sunshine

  • Thematically it’s in line with the rest Chang-don Lee’s oeuvre- it’s dark- life being sucked out of its protagonist
  • Best actress win at Cannes for Do-yeon Jeon and she is good- a very emotional performances- multiple scenes of raw emotional outpouring
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Best actress win at Cannes for Do-yeon Jeon and she is good- a very emotional performances- multiple scenes of raw emotional outpouring — that sign is no accident right next to her either
  • Kang-ho Song is great as her shadow—he’s funny here
  • Yellows galore and that’s where the strength of the film lies- in the believable-world color-specific mise-en-scene like Kieslowski. Chang-dong Lee forgets his usual penchant for green (though that color comes in second here) for yellow—the spot of bleached hair on Do-yeon Jeon’s child, the boots, the pillow, coffee mug, SpongeBob stuffed animal, taxi, chair in pharmacy, the yellow-letter dividers at the cd store
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yellow—the spot of bleached hair on Do-yeon Jeon’s child, the boots, the pillow, coffee mug, SpongeBob stuffed animal, taxi, chair in pharmacy, the yellow-letter dividers at the cd store

stylistic innovations/traits:

  • Dedication to a consistent color in the production design and mise-en-scene—debut- Green titles, green train, green seats on train— he’s wearing green camouflage—ribbon in her hair late— seems influenced by Zhang Yimou’s Raise the Red Lantern or Kieslowski’s color trilogy or both—Secret Sunshine it’s yellow, back to green for Poetry
  • Peppermint Candy is a major achievement in film form—reoccurring imagery of the train just like the wake from the boat in PTA’s The Master, Burning has a great long-taken finale
  • Novelistic, dense, preoccupation with success, tragic love stories, political backdrop (protests, forced service, unemployment, failures) weighing down on characters
  • A thoughtful and dedicated use of color beyond just the objects— there’s a color tinting in the lighting in much of the film
  •  character in an existential crisis- lost—military service, death of loved ones, unemployment
  • A love triangle again like Burning – rich and evil vs our main lost protagonist here – we even have the girl with the haunted past
  •  Violent outburst finale in both Green Fish (debut) and Burning—those two films have a ton in common actually
  • Suicide poetry- suicide on a bridge. Here Chang-dong Lee distorts the water to his trademark green to open and then it slowly turns to a more normal river/water color—great opening
  • harsh reality, serious films
Dedication to a consistent color in the production design and mise-en-scene—debut — here the yellows again in Secret Sunshine

top 10

  1. Burning
  2. Peppermint Candy
  3. Secret Sunshine
  4. Poetry
  5. Oasis
  6. Green Fish

By year and grades

1997- Green Fish R
1999- Peppermint Candy MS
2002- Oasis R
2007- Secret Sunshine R/HR
2010- Poetry R
2018- Burning MP

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives