This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Chris Richmond’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
An intriguing, simmering, and subtle investigation.
Feels a bit like Jules et Jim meets Certified Copy.
People overuse the term "slow burn," but it's entirely appropriate here. Though tense and engaging, this purposefully takes a long while to reveal what's supposedly happening. Despite the weighty runtime, Burning avoids boring or repeating itself.
That's not to say this necessarily needed to be more than 120 minutes, but although I could see a way to mildly compress this, there aren't obvious contenders for scenes or moments that could be gotten rid of without damaging the overall effect here.
That effect is one of rumination on these fantastically performed central three characters, as well as an examination of what's real and what's not here, or whether we can know, or what the word "real" even means.
I've not read any of Haruki Murakami's work, including the short story this was based on, but I did recently finish 100 Years of Solitude, another famous work in the magical realism genre, and the way it intersects the visible and tangible with the ephemeral and supernatural is something very strongly on display here, though perhaps not to quite such enchanting effect.
A part of me still wants to ask, "So what?" If Ben and/or Haei-mi aren't real, what are we left with? Are they visions of his subconscious? Ghosts? Projections of what he wants and what he fears?
Perhaps the fun is in not knowing or staying in that Schrodinger's Viewpoint of cognitive dissonance. The consideration of the idea that nothing is so concrete.
Similarly, there are threads relating this to class divide, the ennui of the privileged, the general search for meaning in life. But the double edged sword of the ostensible literal mystery featured in the film and the more metaphysical mystery of the nature of things makes it very difficult to form a coherent understanding of which images and totems here may represent what.
Visually, this is effective. Lighting is consistently nice, with sunsets featured heavily. Composition is quality and often seeks to communicate character relationships and in-moment feelings by way of their positioning to one another. Negative space is sometimes made prominent or featured exclusively, inviting us to search and ponder.
I'm just not sure we know enough about Lee Jong-su in terms of his history to interpret much about whether these events effected his actions or not, particularly given it's possible or probable he's manufacturing some of it.
The fluid or undefinable nature of the story is simultaneously a strength and a setback to me, but maybe I would feel differently on a rewatch.
Regardless of your takeaway, this is a superbly crafted and legitimately smart film that is sure to have you thinking even after its sun has set.