Burning ★★★★

Great Hunger

Early on in Burning, the character Hae-mi pantomimes eating an orange. Another character, Jong-su, asks how she's able to do it so well. In response, Hae-mi talks about how when she concentrates enough, her mouth waters, and even though the orange isn't there, it's like she can taste it. She tricks her mind into believing something that isn't there is there. Something that did not exist before suddenly does. It's just one of a handful of ideas and motifs that permeate throughout the film. I can't call Burning a masterpiece, but what it is is a film that greatly respects its audience. It gives you the viewer trust to get to know the characters for a while before the true plot kicks in. It introduces concepts and imagery in the first half, then gladly pays attentive viewers respect with how everything progresses in the second half. It earns a striking ending, and is a great example of, fitting of the name, a "slow-burn."

As I mentioned earlier, something that I found especially admirable about Burning is the time it takes to let the viewer get a good understanding of its characters before the true plot of the story comes to fruition. There's primarily a good at least ten to fifteen minute stretch in the first hour where we're almost exclusively with the protagonist of the film, Lee Jong-su. He bums around his house, takes care of a calf, feeds a (possibly imaginary) cat at Hae-mi's apartment, et cetera. It's not very exciting, all things considered, but these small activities do more to let us know what kind of person Jong-su is than any lengthy monologue could. (Should go without saying that Yoo Ah-in's performance in this movie is really good.) Even if you feel like something is a little bit off about any of the characters, and they all do have their issues, you care to a degree about all of them.

I'll also say as someone who watched The Walking Dead passionately for a handful of years, it was a little surreal to see Steven Yeun speaking Korean. It took me a little while to get the image of Glenn out of my head, and soon enough, I was able to appreciate Ben as a distinct character Yeun can add to his repertoire. Without going into detail about the revelations that come from the various three leads, I really enjoyed the ambiguous style of their stories. Certain things are left to interpretation for the audience, and evidence is provided for both sides of the coin for any question. Part of the intrigue for me with Burning goes back to the pantomiming. If you convince yourself of something enough, you can blur fact and fiction. Truth becomes subjective, a fire consumes yourself and those around you. The mind is a powerful, dangerous thing.

Boasting strong characterization, a solid score, and beautiful widescreen cinematography, Burning is not perfect, but is still more than something to come and admire. It helped scratch the itch for strong two and a half hour mystery flicks Zodiac gave me, and with any luck, there are many more out there to scratch the itch even more. This is one of those movies that's getting better the more I think about it, and even the further I'm getting into this review, so maybe a rewatch in the near future won't be out of the question. We all have a great hunger in our lives. Some hungers are stronger than others. Some hungers want more than can ever be provided. We can't burn for very long.


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