Burning ★★★★★

Don't be fooled by the calm and ambiguous nature of this film. Burning deconstructs Asian feminity and sexuality in such an angry way. But it's a quiet rage. The film puts us completely in Jong-su's perspective so we're tricked to like him at first, but as we get to know him, the more we realize how insecure and toxic he really is.

Casting Steven Yeun was a genius move by Lee Chang-dong. Since he's a Korean-American who can speak Korean perfectly, he really embodies the role of the "born-rich" and well-traveled Korean. He doesn't speak a single line of English, but there's just something about his actions that just make him feel like he's not actually natively Korean, which just works so well in this film. And that's not to discredit the other two actors. This is Jeon Jong-soo's debut as an actor, and she's the heart and soul of this film. The movie is all about her; her wants, her desires, and what others think of her. It wouldn't work without her. Hae-mi's sunset dance is one of the greatest scenes... ever. Korean superstar Yoo Ah-in steps into an arthouse role for the first time in his career and he also absolutely kills it. He plays this awkward character so naturally, which is wildly different from the roles he usually chooses due to his good looks and A-list status in his home country.

Casual moviegoers will look at the synopsis of this film and expect a fast-paced whodunit mystery thriller. That is, however, not the case. The Letterboxd description of this film pretty much summarizes the first hour and a half of this film, which is like a solid 3/5 of the film. But this is the type of slow burn that 100% works for me. I remember having issues with the pacing in certain parts of the film when I first watched it, but since this is such a dense movie, I spent pretty much the entire runtime trying to focus on all the details director Lee was throwing at me so I could fully absorb the film on a re-watch. I believe the final hour of the film is what most people who watched the trailer would expect from the movie, and it is done brilliantly. The slow-pace of the first half leads to such a rewarding climax.

This is such a fascinating film, since everything you see in the film is completely subjective from Jong-su's point of view. That means that your analysis is completely based on what you believe is true. What's more impressive is that the movie is still able to make such relevant statements about class division and sexism (particularly in Asia), regardless of what your version of the truth is.

Burning is not my favorite movie of all time (although it's certainly up there). There are movies that hit me harder on an emotional level for sure. However, intellectually speaking, I've probably spent more time making my own analysis of the movie and just thinking about this movie in general than I have with any other movie I've ever watched. It doubles as an endlessly fascinating thriller and a modern reinterpretation of The Great Gatsby. And it captures Murakami's writing perfectly.

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