dani phosgene’s review published on Letterboxd:
Lee Chang-dong's films soaked with loneliness, they're poetic and perfectly keep realism and expressionism in equilibrium. Can you think of a filmmaker better to adapt a Haruki Murakami work? I surely cannot. BURNING is both psychological and romantic slow-paced thriller about an introvert Lee (Yoo Ah-In) who works as a deliveryman, has a soft voice and tries to escape any social interactions; Ben (Steven Yeun) is a wealthy, suave and handsome young man with some interesting kinks; and finally Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), cute, thoughtful, carefree and sleepy girl who becomes the bone of contention for Lee and Ben.
BURNING starts off with a scene where Lee meets his old neighbour, Hae-mi, she flirts with him and eventually gets him to bed and then says that she goes to Africa and she needs to look after her cat whom we never see (so probably the cat doesn't even exist). After sometime she calls him and says the she's going to return in a couple of days, when Lee sees her in the airport he also sees Steven Yeun's character, Ben, for the first time, and a quiet love story about two lonely people becomes a love triangle thriller that's filled with latent comtempt, jealousy and fake grins. Hae-mi leans neither to Lee nor Ben, it's almost like she's playing her little twisted game.
Everything starts getting weird when one day after a bit of weed Ben tells Lee about his kink: he likes to burn greenhouses, and that he's going to burn one that's located nearby Lee's house very soon. Lee becomes kind of obsessed with his words, he doesn't understand whether Ben is really burning greenhouses down or just messing with him, he points out on a map greenhouses and every evening runs to them to check if they got burned, and if he will desire to do the same as Ben.
In the meantime Hae-mi disapears without a word (she only calls once Lee and all we hear is a heavy breathing as if she was running). After sometime Lee starts to suspect that Ben has something to do with it and can't come up with anyhting better but to follow him. He follows him every day and at some point it feels like Lee is trying to be Ben, aside from his obsession with greenhouses. He wants to be that man for whom fell Hae-mi i.e. when Ben appeared Lee started to feel in their company like a third wheel, or at least that's what he thinks. Lee is a contemplator and he wants to be the man of action like Ben, he doesn't want to be a guy who owns a truck, he wants to be a guy who owns Porsche. That's the other theme of the movie, the difference of social classes and insignificance of an individual's life.
Hae-mi is an amazing character and you really miss her when she disappears. But most importantly she is the greenhouse that Ben burned down and Lee was desperately trying to find. She was detached from the rest of the world, she liked to forget about something that wasn't there (pantomime with a tangerine), she liked to fall asleep basically anywhere, wasn't interested in her interlocutors. She was in self-sufficient isolation and was ignoring time - these features are similar to the ones with which people in many cultures characterize abandoned premises.
BURNING shows how cruel world can be to lonely people, how it suppresses them and can make them disappear. BURNING shows the critical difference between working class and privileged class, and how much they values are different. When Ben says that he burns greenhouses Lee reacts with confusion, how could burn something that belongs to someone else. Ben kills Hae-mi because he doesn't value a human life, that's something that Lee doesn't understand (at least in the beginning).
Lee Chang-dong's BURNING is a poem of wordless images of human emotions and conditions with subtle dynamic of the characters and airtight atmosphere, and dare I say with a very lit ending?