MisbarID’s review published on Letterboxd:
One day, Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) unexpectedly meets Hae-mi (Jun Jong-seo), his childhood neighbor and classmate whom he doesn’t remember at all. Hae-mi invites him for a drink, telling Jong-su about her plan to travel to Africa and inquires him for a help to feed her cat when she’s away. Later when Hae-mi comes back from her trip, Jong-su picks her up at the airport. There, Hae-mi introduces Jong-su to Ben (Steven Yeun), a mysterious wealthy young guy whom she met in Kenya. Since their arrival, Hae-mi has seemed to be more attracted to Ben because of his appearance and deep pocket. The situation has made it hard for Jong-su, who’s had feelings for her, to get close to Hae-mi. During a visit with Hae-mi to Jong-su’s place, Ben confesses to him that he has this unusual, peculiar hobby that should be done for every 2 months.
Inspired from a short story titled ‘Barn Burning’ written by Haruki Murakami, ‘Burning’ is a phenomenal slow-burning movie which relies on a stylish, unconventional character-driven storytelling. This philosophical semi-psychotic thriller is a kind of film that will make you grit your teeth in curiosity. Everything about this film is extremely uncertain, but the mystery represents the aphorism that will bequeath you contemplating for hours searching for the meaning it leaves behind. It does offer this one clue in the beginning of the film which points that the whole story might want to entertain the idea of the absence of conviction. Well, good luck figuring out what’s this film is all about because that clue has made the premise becomes much more complicated (however more interesting) because it could go to literally many directions. Did everything happen because Jong-su is imagining things that he’s hoping for? Did things happen because he decided to forget the void of everything he’s craving for in reality?
The addition of Ben’s character to the picture has made the audience’s thinking process is getting more cataclysmic in a magnificent way. It could be interpreted that Ben is there to become Jong-su’s trigger, the embodiment of a person which Jong-su is longing to be and that’s why the insecurity grows within Jong-su’s mind, luring the poor guy to gradually transform and reverberate into Ben’s mindset. His uncontrolled passion for Hae-mi indeed adds more fuel to the scene, another instrument to expose him as a totally wrecked human being both inside and outside. Too much thinking, too many concepts in his head yet he’s just another coward who can’t do a thing because whatever he’s doing, life keeps stomping him hard to the ground.
Let’s talk about what a brilliant job that Lee Chang-dong and Oh Jung-mi did in constructing the script. It was written in such a precision and with a charm of a poetry it almost feels like it is really intended to be a thespian theatrical play in a form of cinematic experience. Vividly captured a broad range of negativity from jealousy, resentment, malevolence, and selfishness, basically all the emotions in this world that will definitely make a man feels 'burning' inside. This is how you adapt Murakami’s speculative and grandiloquent style of storytelling into a movie. It allows no exact concrete structure in fabricating the story as every act was placed among each other in such a free-form manner, weirdly fandangoing to bewilder your mind but also seduce you to ballet along with its allegory of vagueness as well.
Don’t forget that Emmanuel Lubezki-esque language of cinematographed imageries which strongly resonate throughout the entire 148 minutes of this visual promenade which amazingly contradicts the sombre poem behind the plot. An authentic quintessence of both heartfelt and fervid kind of art. An anxious watch made for your starving soul. A zealous reminder that we the human should never seek what is not rightfully ours and stop pretending to possess something that is not even genuine. And at last, the most outstanding film of 2018 for me!