Burning ★★★★½

FNC 2018 Part Three (Closing day)

To watch Lee Chang Dong’s Cannes hit Burning means you’ll spend more time with it than the length suggests. After the credits rolled I found myself thinking about it, eager to dissect every scene, every piece of information of this puzzle of a film and that doesn’t even count the discussions that came after my thoughts were slightly more rearranged and the inevitable rewatches to come.

A bizarre love triangle turned mystery-thriller who might just be a cover-up for a critique of the americanization of the upper class, the film treats its audience with a lot of respect by laying its two sets of cards to compliment one another: the ever intriguing plot and the rich themes sprinkled with subtlety. 

Steven Yeun shines in this movie as he not only steals every scene he’s in but also reverts completely how I saw him as this loveable actor. What he displays here might be the most sinister portrayal of class priviledge since Lav Diaz’s Norte, the End of History. With this character so disturbingly perfect on the surface that when darkness eventually erupts from him I couldn’t help but be scared of this insidiously intimidating performance. 

To the surprise of many critics, Burning won no major prizes at Cannes but the Vulcan prize for best artistic contribution given to the art direction and it is really an aspect to behold in this film. Every set and every prop is carefully chosen to be more than just decorations. Cars and homes become extensions of characters, objects are placed and chosen so perfectly that just seeing something where it usually isn’t becomes a source of evocation and sometimes immense tension.

The cinematography is also immaculate with colours never being dull and smooth carefully chosen camera movements. One of the best shots is this perfect one-take in a club, the film could have taken the easy route of shaky fast editing to create this sense of disorientation akin to similar scenes. What Burning does offer is to create this sense only with sound so our eyes can focus on the wizardry of the placement of the camera and actors to show the isolation of the main character in this social gathering where he might as well be a ghost.

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