Burning ★★★★½

It’s fitting that a song Miles Davis composed for Louis Malle’s 1959 noir thriller Elevator to the Gallows is a musical cue in Lee Chang Dong’s Burning as you’d have to look back to the halcyon days of the French New Wave to find a film so meticulously in control of its mood and atmosphere. Burning is the kind of movie that separates cinema from any other artistic medium as Lee concocts a story whose tone, character motivations and plot are all demonstrated primarily in the visual medium as the nuanced performances and the gorgeous Korean landscapes paint a slow-burn mystery brimming with intrigue and emotional complexity. Lee simply engulfs you in this world is disillusion and disorientation to such an extent that the palpable sense of paranoia in the narrative stays with you long after you finish viewing. Like a lot of Korean dramas, Burning is a patient and slow watch but as the blossoms and the webs of deceit begin to unravel themselves you’re left with a eerie, Hitchcockian sense of dread and mystery in the final act.
Steven Yeun’s performance manages the charisma and creepy aura of his character perfectly whilst Ah-in Yoo’s Lee Jong-Su provides the kind of quiet but curious blank slate a story of this odd nature requires to fully function but the real star here is the cinematography. Hong Gyeong-Pyo’s camera weaves its way ethereally through the maelstrom of symbolism and ambiguity, continually exuding a sense of authority and control over the aforementioned atmosphere of the movie unrivalled by any film in recent memory. Scenes where Lee simply lets the Korean landscape and visual emotion tell the story show the sort of artistic clarity that sets Burning apart from any other film released in 2018. A slow-burning, mysterious journey into the abyss and it’s absolutely brilliant.

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