Burning

Burning ★★★½

A relatable and mysterious tale that holds your attention and is executed with elegance, but it does wander, and not every scene is as beguiling as stand-out ones like Hae-mi's confession that she wishes she'd never existed at all, or especially her hypnotic near-shadow dance against the dimming skyline while they're high. The ambience and choreography there are exquisite (movie scenes that take place at dusk always entrance me, though).

The movie's working a slow burn and it succeeds to a degree, but the protraction of everything also augments a malnourishment of ideas overall. If the movie has to go on for an entire 2.5 hours as most South Korean films seem to (or at least all the ones that I get around to seeing), how about something more to chew on thematically, philosophically, even narratively? The story is pretty simple and these aren't especially complex characters. The ambiguity of what really happened and how that colors Jong-su's actions at the end are the most interesting thing about all of this. It's a powerful conclusion, but large swathes of the movie prior to that aren't as deep, trenchant, or moving as I was led to believe by the white-hot hype this got (chalk that up to customary Cannes hyperbole, I suppose). There are some ongoing effects, yes - matters of class differences, sexual politics, shifting sympathies - but again this movie is 148 minutes long. I got the point of these ideas pretty fast and then watched the movie coyly repeat them for a very long while. Not complaining necessarily, just trying to express why I didn't come out of this movie with a higher opinion like most of my colleagues around here. I liked it more for the aesthetic allure and individual pieces, and then the cumulative effect at the end, which I admit might not have been possible if the movie had been shorter or more busy engaging me on other levels, but that doesn't necessarily make the preceding 2.5 hours more edifying in retrospect. I still had to sit there twiddling my thumbs many times, soaking in the mood but also noticing how stretched out this story felt.

Anyway, good trio of lead actors, too. Steven Yeun performed a very similar tightrope walk on an episode from this recent first season of Jordan Peele's "Twilight Zone", seeming friendly and easygoing on the surface while suggesting something sinister and unknowable beneath. Feel free to be typecast in this way for a while, Yeun. You're great at it.

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