Burning

Burning ★★★★½

2018 Ranked

There’s a quote that states that the filmgoing experience doesn’t begin until after one leaves the theater. Only then can a film fester in the minds of audiences, and only then can the relevance of a film be understood. While I don’t remember who stated the quote (or even if I’ve paraphrased it correctly), the sentiment holds all the same for Lee Chang-dong’s Burning.

Burning is an exercise in mystery and intrigue, Chang-dong wisely crafting a slow burn thriller that actually does have a payoff that legitimizes its two-and-a-half-hour runtime. He approaches themes of value, appearance, American and capitalistic influence, abuse, memory, and social justice all within one film, and manages to do so that you don’t actively consider a number of these themes until after seeing the film.

Steven Yeun charms as the wealthy, enigmatic Ben- who may or may not have a twisted side to him- and Yoo Ah-in stars as the economically and sexually frustrated Lee Jong-su who has seemingly dealt with a lifetime of hardship. The woman who brings them together, Shin Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), is also somewhat of a puzzle herself, in part since we only see her through the subjectivity of Jong-su’s male gaze. Jong-su is an usual choice as a protagonist, his mouth agape and merely just one reason for us to cast doubt on his sensory awareness, but there’s merit in how Chang-dong portrays his character despite our potential frustrations with the role.