Burning ★★★★★

I read an article that broke the news that Steven Yuen and Yoo Ah-in would be leading the next Lee Chang-dong film, and I got really excited way before it was released. During the film's festival run, my friends were talking about how Steven Yuen is in his first Korean movie. I shared how much I was looking forward to it and how I just knew it was going to be amazing no matter what. Some time passes, and a friend of mine says how he watched it the weekend it came out. He says he wonders what I will think of it, and says he was unsure of how he felt about it. I got to see the movie a few days later, and I began to panic that I might have led people to watch a film that might not be as entertaining as I thought it would be. It seemed “boring” and whatever the film was making me feel, it didn’t feel too good. But it felt like Lee Chang-dong was in complete control and every shot and line had a purpose. The film ended, and oddly, the theatre was packed but it seemed like the audience tried to leave as quietly as they could. The film would then not leave my head for the next couple of days, and I kept thinking about it over and over again. Jeon Jong-seo, who I think is the next Julianne Moore, Yoo Ah-in, and Steven Yuen really carry this movie amazingly because so much of the story is not just in the dialogue but only in that space that only actors can maneuver around in. Hae-mi’s internal emptiness, Jong-su’s hellish frustration, and the first tears in the final scene all were beautifully shown through the performances. I began to recollect scenes of Hae-mi and what she said and how the people around her treated her, and I realized that these are the same memories Jong-su had when he frantically runs to each ugly, abandoned greenhouse again and again. I was so worried that there would be no rewarding payoff to explain the mysteries of what happened and if the main protagonist will find love again that I did not realize that movies don’t just need to serve the purpose to make a solely entertaining experience and fulfill the expectations we set based on the supposed genre we perceive the movie as. Maybe a film is made in order to share space intimately with a character that no other medium of storytelling allows. In this film, we see the protagonist’s love life, sex life, social life, and his daily struggles and burdens in a way the audience can share those experiences of feeling suffocated and lost. The way Jong-su saw his surroundings with contempt is expressed through both the camera and the performance, and this also asks the question if films should be made to force us to question the environment we are in, how the human condition is reacting to that environment, and how the people in there treat each other. Really a film can be made anyway the filmmakers pleases, but the audience might have a different expectation of how the movie can serve us. There might be people that could care less of what these characters might be thinking about and what questions Lee Chang-dong might be asking us, but I can promise you that this is a film made very sensitively and with great care and mastery of the craft.

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