Burning ★★★★½

On its surface, South Korean slow-burner “Burning” is a bizarre love triangle involving a poor unemployed farmer’s son who fancies himself a writer but hasn’t written anything, the new-money Porche-driving Gangnam-style mysterious ladies’ man, and the free-spirited narcoleptic woman who both (seemingly) covet.
And the film works exquisitely on this level. Director Lee Chang-dong takes his time to showcase each of the characters and allows each of his actors’ subtle performances to shine.
That alone would make the film - based on a short story - well worth its sprawling two and a half hour run time.
But “Burning” is so much more than that. It is a clever and emotional rumination on what is real and what is not (made symbolically clear early on with a pantomimed tangerine). At so many points in the film, you have to wonder if the characters’ actions are actually happening or are they figments of one of the characters’ minds.
This tense uneasiness is underscored by a strong foreboding soundtrack, beautiful cinematography that still seems not quite right, a well-constructed script that offers hints at the characters’ emotional backstory without giving it all away, and even the presence of North Korean propaganda being broadcast in the background.
It’s a simple story that when put in synopsis form sounds dry (see IMDb), and yet to tell more is to give too much away. It’s really a paradox - a quiet film with tension, anxiety and emotion that never let up. And it leaves you with as many questions about class, love and desire as answers.

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