Burning ★★★★

Initially, I think Burning appears simplistic, especially in the way it draws contrasts between its two main characters. For example, in only his second scene, Steven Yeun laughs at the sight of someone crying because, as he says, he's never shed a tear in his life! Pitting that kind of characterization next to Yoo Ah-In’s doe-eyed, open-mouthed performance, the distinction between these two male personalities and their differing relationships to traditional notions of masculinity appear obvious, and it isn't difficult to figure out where the film is headed. But there’s something about the way the details are assembled, and eventually unfold into a Hitchcockian thriller par excellence, that I found deeply haunting. As overwrought as Lee Chang-dong’s literary symbolism tends to be, his images are decidedly more spare and sinister. In particular, the final sequence is perfect in its ethereal beauty and raw physicality. The performances are also great, and make up for some of the script's shortcomings. Steven Yeun is particularly terrific; his character is at once perfectly composed and a total alien in the world around him, a wealthy and well-dressed enigma whose presentability is the exact quality that makes him seem untrustworthy. Yeun embodies this to an exacting, frightening degree.