KJ Schultz’s review published on Letterboxd:
A standard everyday delivery, met with a not-so, yet familiar face. Shared samgyeopsal with lousy light beer and a few too many bottles of soju. Hae-mi, a peculiar free spirited personality, flirtatious with looks and provocative actions.
Slouched, shuffling from here to there, lethargic behavior barely displaying a pulse, Jong-su agrees to look after her cat. A feline friend that never shows up, a new mysterious player upon the Africa return trip. Who is Ben? Where is Hae-mi? What do these greenhouses mean?
Burning is the epitome of slow burn cinema. An ambiguous dive into characters where one end of the spectrum explores coming from new money, given opportunities, and is showcased perfectly by Ben’s charismatic playboy dreamlike lifestyle. Teeter to the other side, where Jong-su, low class, struggling “writer”, living with his families’ mistakes, is lost in his own thoughts, deciphering childhood memories, keeping nights watch, slowly building rage with all these blank answers to his attentive questions. It’s this dark mysterious metaphorical monster wrapped up in pleasing aesthetics, where the urge for answers rattles your nerves and consumes you. As the viewer, you’re constantly waiting for this slow ticking bomb to explode, searching for signs, theorizing what will unfold, much like Jong-su’s search for Hae-Mi.
Burning has this disciplined pace to it, carefully feeding the audience different tastes of the narrative, puzzle pieces of sort that may fit into the big picture. A beautiful looking film with high alarming strings in the score that bleed into the gentle mountains filling the Korean landscapes. Topless beauty lost in a sea of orange and blue, with time at a standstill, high on the moment, finally feeling something worth holding onto, even if it’s brief. We may never find out the truth, but it lingers in front of us long enough to create answers that please us for the now. It manipulates from the start and doesn’t let up until the violently cold finale.
It’s hard to put your thoughts into words about this. Revisiting it will only lead to creating new theories, that may never have a definitive answer, but I think that’s what makes Burning so special. It’s been on my mind since I’ve watched it.