Burning

Burning ★★★★★

There's a party and we're all going
And we're all growing up
Somebody's driving and he will be drinking
And no one's going back
'Cause we've tried hungry and we've tried full and
Nothing seems enough
So tonight, tonight
The boys are gonna go for
More more more

Japanese-American musician Mitski’s album "Bury Me At Make Out Creek" begins by bottling up the pressures of Asian-identity anxieties before stuffing a gas-soaked washcloth down the glass and setting it ablaze upon arriving at the second song, 'Townie', and its searing chorus. Burning director Lee Chang-dong’s cinematic adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s sleek short story “Barn Burning” accomplishes something similar over the course of its 148 minutes, breathing until it combusts. It may be the first intimate character study one could also describe as a cultural epic; the first nail-biting thriller I’ve seen that might also be classified by Paul Schrader as fitting into the category of “slow cinema”. Its structure shares that of many Eastern philosophies – valuing focus, discipline, and the pearl on the pedestal that is patience. Its message partly parallels that of the past few years in American gender politics. To describe how would constitute spoilers.

Lee's stylistic approach evokes a meditative aesthetic akin to other pensive, Asian-art-house, filmmakers, such as Tsai Ming-liang or Hong Sang-soo (this was my first exposure to his work). Despite the film’s many comparative admissions to other modern works of fiction, it never once feels derivative. The central “love triangle” - wherein two polar opposite men each tug at one arm of the same woman - balances jealous resentment and hero worship in a nuanced manner that is eerily similar of the seminal Taiwanese filmmaker’s debut feature, Rebels of the Neon God. But, unlike Murakami’s source material (and Tsai’s first film), Burning spends a specific length of its narrative laying down so much ambiguous track that when the plot train finally runs through, it doesn’t merely ignite, it incinerates right through the screen.

Even the smallest exchanges that have been added across the narrative serve to speak volumes about the process of expanding the original, Japanese short story into a near unrivaled, metaphorically fatalist, artistic statement on masculine sociopathy. Watching the adaptation unfold feels like witnessing the tragedy of a timeless tale re-shape itself into something organic and wholly original - somehow both ethnically inspired and frighteningly unsettling. Mimes and metaphors - key motifs to the film - constantly operate on two levels of reality; only the men only ever pay mind and listen to one: the bass beating beneath their bones.

And I want a love that falls as fast
As a body from the balcony, and
I want a kiss like my heart is hitting the ground
I'm holding my breath with a baseball bat
Though I don't know what I'm waiting for
I am not gonna be what my daddy wants me to be

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