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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Burning Greenhouses with Miles Davis: Class, Empathy, and Toxic Masculinity

  • Author(s): Gilbert, Matthew
  • et al.

This essay examines a scene from Lee Chang-dong’s film Burning (2018) as part of a larger discussion around class conflict. A Korean filmic adaptation of a short story originally by Japanese author Haruki Murakami, Burning tells the story of Jeong-su, a poor farmer who is caught in a love triangle with Hae-mi, an old classmate, and her new boyfriend, Ben, a mysterious, wealthy socialite. In a pivotal scene, Lee turns the camera on Hae-mi as she dances to a song by Miles Davis, creating a filmic parallel to Murakami’s liminal spaces and forcing the audience to question reality. Through a consideration of textual and paratextual material, I argue that the director Lee Chang-dong uses music and dance to critique toxic masculinity through subtle sound editing techniques and narrative and metaphorical signifiers of class and power. Ultimately, Lee breaks from the source material to simultaneously express and nullify Hae-mi’s agency and place her at the heart of the narrative.

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