Burning ★★★★½

I'd like to just disappear

Lee Chang-dong's latest is a barn-burner (quite literally) of a film; a slow-burn, scintillating mystery that revels in ambiguity, even if it occasionally eagerly stumbles to get its themes out, tripping over its own dialogue.

After house-sitting for his old friend Haemi, Jongsu is introduced to her new, rich, handsome friend: Ben. He speaks in riddles, somewhat ineffectively invoking the Great Gatsby, and casually flirts with Haemi. She enjoys the game of taunt the third wheel, Jongsu sticks around out of a masochistic sense of misplaced affection, and Ben...well, he's there for more complicated reasons.

Steven Yeun eats up every moment of screen-time he has as Ben. It's not the typical tall, dark, mysterious stranger archetype we've seen a thousand times. He's attractive, rich, and occasionally speaks in riddles, sure, but Lee is careful to keep the dialogue (for the most part) effectively quotidian. Lines become charged with import only in retrospect and he's hardly so vulgar a director to over-pepper his work with flashbacks neatly linking all the pieces together. This sense of careful evocativeness permeates nearly every aspect of Lee's film. The farthest Lee strays from the film's grounded imagery is an ecstatic sunset dance, bathed in the cool, soft light of a sunset and the dulcet tones of Miles Davis.

Lee's film seems to be about many things without ever being about a *THING*. It's about the malaise of affluence, the reproduction of violence, the destruction of something already ready to die. It's a sad and a scary picture and it's one of the very best of the year.

Burning currently sits at #3 on my 2018 list.

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