Burning ★★★★½

This rewatch confirms the fact that Burning is one of the most unique films of the last decade. It’s so out of the ordinary with its dissonance and contradictions which are delivered with utmost certainty and confidence in the fact that nothing needs to make sense. It wants to confuse the audience not for the sake of it but because this is a story about condition of man and subtle, nuanced character study that comments on the direction the world has taken, where nothing for so many people makes any sense.

In fact, it could be a character study of all three characters one of which disappears halfway through. That's how well realized the setting and Lee Chang-dong's characters are. He makes it look so easy with masterful long takes and dialogue that could be seen as revealing but because the film has incredible amount of loose ends and interpretations it merely sets the stage for what Lee wants to explore. He finds directness in what is cryptic or vice versa depending what you find to be the most dominant aspect.

Burning is literal mastery in every filmmaking department: writing, acting, cinematography, editing, sound, production. But the true mastery can be found in the enigmatic and mysterious quality and abundance of themes that are explored with swift brush and distant gander but offer all you can ask because they serve such a dedicated vision. I understand that some can be put off by this and criticize the pre-possessed information you should have to understand it fully. But then again one of the core statement’s is that world is a mystery and reality is wavering. We perceive the world as we do and in today’s environment there’s too much disparity between people to appease everybody. And once again Bresson’s statement about feeling a film rather than understanding it should be taken into consideration.

The movie definitely doesn’t lack emotion either which becomes apparent during the sunset dance scene that captures Haemi’s state of mind without saying a single word but instead through the power of sensual, emotional meditation of music and visuals (the natural lighting is absolutely stunning). There’s too much complexity and nuances for me to venture into analysis of the characters. It’s done so effectively in the film that my clumsy words would only make a possible new viewer less intrigued.

Burning deals with generational gap, society divided by class, Korean conflict, westernization of Asia and cultural differences, age of the internet and is littered with allusions to other works, especially psychology and literature. The world here is as multifaceted as the one we live in and with surrealist elements Lee, similarly to Lynch is able to bring you even more honest but nastier depiction of what lies just out of our reach whether societal or mental. It's a subliminal poetic dance with senses and expectations.

Yoo Ah-in delivers an outstanding performance as his expression is that of constant confusion and body language communicates Jongsu's discomfort perfectly. Steven Yeun’s superficial, unempathetic attitude is translucent but his confidence sells Ben’s coldness. Then again you wouldn’t believe his influence and charisma at all if it wasn’t for the fact that this film is entirely from Jongsu’s messy, selfish perspective. When that POV breaks with such an out of context scene in the end I almost felt like my privacy was being violated. Is there anything creepier than Yeun’s unchanged expression as he applies makeup to the girl? It feels unhinged and makes you question this film even more. I think it might also be bit of a flaw because it causes too much confusion and chaos in rules of storytelling and is the only time when I'm not sure why Lee fuels the enigma. However, clashes and contradictions are crucial to this film and its message so it makes sense in that context.

I still don’t know what is real and what is not but I’ve accepted that the pieces of the puzzle might never make sense to me. It’s the crave for more that brings me back and is essential part of the film's allure. Things that are on the tip of your tongue but can't quite concretize. The duality of Ben and Jongsu, their obsessive, psychotic and narcissistic behavior observed like two sides of the same coin but unreliably. It’s incredible to watch this coil unfold and intertwine again when Lee reverts your expectations and messes with your head.

I was hesitant to give this my “crème de la crème” rating of 4.5 stars on first watch but this deserves it even though there are couple of instances when I felt the takes went on for bit too long.

Great performances - Yoo Ah-in
Fantastic film music

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