Burning ★★★★½

"Burning" is a 2018 South Korean film from Lee Chang-Dong that follows one Lee Jong-Su, a deliveryman and aspiring novelist who bumps into an old childhood acquaintance named Shin Hae-Mi one day. The two re-kindle their acquaintance, and eventually, a friendship, but Hae-Mi soon leaves on a trip to Africa. Upon her return, Jong-Su is disappointed to see Hae-Mi has gravitated towards another Korean she met while on the trip, a playboy named Ben. Over time, Jong-Su begins to wonder if there's more to Ben than meets the eye, especially after Hae-Mi goes missing...

This was a very cerebral slow burn of a film, forcing one to constantly reevaluate the main characters, their drives, their desires, even their conversations to attempt to unravel the mysteries that lurk underneath the surface of the film. Lee Chang-Dong uses the aspect of differing social status to help instill a sense of desperation into the main character of Jong-Su, therefore introducing a feeling of unreliability into the narrative, and that feeling of unreliability is further enhanced when the concept of obsession creeps in to Jong-Su's character as well, as Hae-Mi appears and subsequently vanishes from his life, leading Jong-Su to desire her, to long for her presence... that the film relies so heavily on multiple levels of ambiguity doesn't help the members of the audience who wish for resolution, but in another way the filmmakers are giving the audience the gift of interpretation, to pull whatever answers one wants out of their individual experience, and therefore one should end up satisfied with whatever answer one gets from here.

I've said it before in another review, but Korean cinematography is GORGEOUS, and in here it's on full display. Lee Chang-Dong uses this striking cinematography to full effect, enhancing the subliminal emotions the film is sowing, whether it's using the openness of the countryside to emphasize the loneliness of Hae-Mi, especially when she dances during a sunset, or the crowded city to instill the confusion, emptiness and later desperation that Jong-Su feels; hell, you can even use the shot showing Ben staring at a lake and hills in the countryside, completely oblivious to Jong-Su spying on him from behind Ben's Porsche as a talking point about the delineation of classes, the rich and the poor. The story is interesting, never adequately supplying enough context to provide firm conclusions about the characters and their motivations and aspirations, but simply enough to plumb vague societal and emotional concepts, and I only use the term "vague" because the answers to these questions are different and distinct for everyone. Multiple re-watches of this film are in order to properly supply order and structure to one's thoughts about this film... Lee Chang-Dong's direction is sublime here, keeping the film from rushing the story while allowing everything to unfold and blossom naturally, and the acting in here is excellent, each actor and actress providing enough life and gravitas to their characters to make them believable and real.

I apologize if this review feels like a stream of thought review instead of structured and orderly; admittedly, there's a lot to process and unpack in this film, and I'm still thinking about it and replaying scenes in my mind to try and figure out what the "correct" way to interpret them is. Suffice it to say, I greatly enjoyed this film and I heartily recommend this to my fellow cinephiles.

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