Burning ★★★½

Burning reaches into so many places and builds so many different frames that it's hard to pin down as an overall picture. While the wealth disparity is at the forefront, with Steven Yeun's Ben seeming to incite rage with every small nonchalant act, Burning could also be considered a searing study of jealousy and existentialism. The second half is majorly ambiguous, which makes a critique or simple understanding of the film nearly impossible, because with transitions that float next to each other like clouds, - branching out into paranoia, despair, and eventually rage - the overarching meaning and message fluctuates.

Hae-mi is a sort of manic pixie dream girl, and holds the affection of Jung-su and Ben - two men that couldn't be more different. Their surroundings, mannerisms, and means of communication are directly in relation to their place in society. The two different worlds don't clash but they do muddy the same water, mixing into an ugly brownish-green that is far from natural. Their anger and dislike is stuffed behind so many layers of casual chatter and social gatherings. The reasons for the growing discontent are amplified when Hae-mi isn't heard from for a while, and the film's references to metaphors begin to become alive and cause literal worries to bubble under the surface.

I can appreciate ambiguity, but Burning is ambitious, and stretches itself perhaps too far considering how heavily it relies on Jung-su as a leading man. It's a great performance, but him as a character is the definition of passive, and I find that frustrating. Perhaps even more frustrating is the fact I believe it's by design, and is just Lee commenting on the very issues Jung-su represents, but he has such little identity, and while I can appreciate why that is, he's hard to dig into. And as much as I enjoyed the flawless transition into thriller terriorty, the film is more concerned with its own unclear nature, and the personal reactions of its leading man than it is with providing a conclusion that feels fully earned.

To an extent, Burning does feel like a deliberate and solid exploration of many different things and modus operandi, with fascinating characters and graceful tonal shifts, but it also left me wanting for something to complete the package. I don't know what that would be yet, so I'm going to let this one sink in for a while. I just wish it cared enough about Hae-mi to make her something other than a puzzle piece to be yearned over. But then if she was more important to the narrative and we were given closure surrounding her dissappearence, would that just make everything else less powerful?

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