Burning ★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Burning is a mindfuck of a movie. From the start you're launched into the life of Jong-su, who quickly runs into his old neighbour Hae-mi. The two hit it off in an odd way and decide to get drinks together. Their friendship seems to progress and just before Hae-mi leaves for a African trip, the two sleep together. This leaves Jong-su with high hopes and a deep desire for Hae-mi. After time passes, Hae-mi returns but is accompanied by Ben, which makes Jong-su both uncomfortable and jealous. The three go out together, party, and connect on deeper levels. But when Hae-mi mysteriously disappears, Jong-su begins to suspect that Ben had something to do with it. This boils down to a final confrontation.

Burning, for me, was a bit of a let down in the sense that it could never fully build the suspense to the point where I was able to immerse myself into the story. It's a strange story that I found lacked in exposition. A little too much was left to the viewer to piece together and follow along. This, I guess, is a testament to the director Chang-dong Lee because it shows they trust their viewer to be able to understand. Unfortunately for me I must be too dense as I wasn't able to really enjoy this film. I don't know though, was that the point?

The story, I don't quite understand. I mean, it's easy to piece together that Ben may be a serial murderer? He speaks about not really feeling emotions, he's very neutral, calm, but in a unnatural way. To me he's a sociopath. Most serial killers are sociopaths. That, itself, was clear. However, we would never know for sure. It's easy to assume based on the clues found by Jong-su in Ben's apartment but based on the ending, we would never really know. Which then leads you to wonder, did Jong-su find out? Or is Jong-su himself, deranged? There's a lot going on in this film and I will say that the characters were all performed well by their actors. Steven Yeun is so cold and calculated in this film. He acts like he's some sort of guru or wise man, but I think it was a fake ruse. It never felt genuine, which furthers my point about his character being a sociopath. Yoo Ah-In who played Jong-su was fantastic. His mannerisms and overall weirdness, which came off as endearing at times, really sold his character for me. He was so strange and almost lost in himself. His character's life is just, there, happening. Jong-seo Jun who plays Shin Hae-mi was also fantastic. Her scene where she retells the African dance to the friends was really something. Or when she first returns from Africa and breaks down to Jong-su. Hae-mi, while a intriguing character and even complex, never got the chance to really shine because she disappears. But even from the beginning she wasn't easy to figure out.

The cinematography really was gorgeous. The country landscapes opposed by the dense streets of Seoul created a interesting and beautiful juxtaposition. I loved the tones strewn throughout this film, and the colours that came through when important. The dream scene where Jong-su is a child watching the greenhouse burn down was eye-candy. Or the scene where Hae-mi dances in front of Jong-su's house. The silhouette is exceptional. It really deepens that moment where she dances. Overall, a very good looking film.

In the end, the mystery didn't quite catch my attention like it should have and I wasn't as drawn into it as I expected. It left me wanting more and I wasn't satisfied with the ending, it didn't feel earned. It amazes me that with 2.5 hours of runtime it was unable to achieve this for me. So while it had strong performances and it looked really good, with the potential of a memorable story, it fell flat when putting it all together. Still worth 3.5 stars though.

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