Burning ★★★★★

I don’t think I have ever written so much about one film as I have about Burning, but I think about it so much and always notice something new, something that never fails to fascinate not only a movie lover in me but a human being as well. And sometimes I think about Burning and just don’t understand how something like that can exist in the real world, how Lee Chang-dong pulled it off and how so many people are simplifying the film by overlooking 90% of the film and seeing the metaphor as the main point in the film. Burning is so much more than that, Burning isn’t about what’s being shown or told, it’s about what’s not being shown or told, and I’m not talking about the basic subtext, it’s about whole stories that are happening off the screen, this is one of the most vague films that can also can be seen as a solid neo-noir with otherworldly score by Mowg accompanying the characters in their journey of ambiguity and morality. 

The favorite writer of Jong-su is William Faulkner and in an interview with The Paris Review in 1956, he remarked: “Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him.” This quote applies to Burning so much, Lee Chang-dong breaks the rules with this film and although Chang-dong isn’t a young writer or director (he literally served as South Korea's Minister of Culture and Tourism from 2003 to 2004) but Burning feels like it’s written and directed by someone very young and ambitious but at the same time (not to be ageist) I doubt that the film could have been what it is if it was in fact written by someone young and inexperienced. And you know, usually older people see younger generation as an abomination and something that will be the end of the world where in reality it’s them who mostly destroyed everything for the modern world. Lee Chang-dong isn’t like that, obviously he sees the bad side but focuses more on the good side of our generation and our rage, our thirst for a change and criticizes the older generation for making us miserable and depressed too.

Burning manages to be a neo-noir with Jun Jong-seo who may not be a classic femme fatale but something about her mystic appearance and behavior make her one, and Yoo Ah-in who’s not exactly a Humphrey Bogart character but still feels like one; it’s an impulsive political study of classes with Steven Yeun and his alluring and daunting smile. The film captures not only dynamics in the modern society but also something historical as propaganda speakers at border with North Korea that were taken down about a month before Burning graced a silver screen for the first time at Cannes Film Festival the last year, but the film will always keep it in itself.

Burning is a movie made for rewatches, I still feel like there’s so much to unpack after two watches, some movies feel overweighted because of it but Burning doesn’t suffer because of it a bit, on the contrary it gains its greatness by being so complex and difficult to fully unpack. It’s an instant classic not only for Korean cinema but for movies as a whole, it’s a menacing masterpiece, it’s a slow burning fuse of a very small dynamite that explodes louder than bombs.

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