Burning ★★★★

[80]

Strongly agree with one of Mike D’Angelo’s major points of contention—that damn pink wristwatch needs to go. I might even take it one step further and nix the garage/cat scene, or at least muddle it a bit. (That is to say, don’t have the feline triumphantly march over the instant his name is uttered. Do cats ever even respond this obediently? Mine certainly do not.) These inclusions sour the ending just a tad, deploying a vindictive/redemptive undertone that I would gladly trade for something more/entirely nebulous. Ambiguity is BURNING’s biggest strength, and those scenes feel strange considering Lee meticulously dodges certitude otherwise (e.g., never showing the cat in Hae-mi’s apartment beforehand).

Way, waaaay too much other bravura going on for me to condemn it outright, though—I mean, this thing fucking looms. For over an hour I had absolutely no idea where it was headed, nevertheless gripped by a ratcheting tension as each scene concluded, seemingly no closer to any sort of endgame. Even something as fundamentally flaccid as Ben’s first appearance in the airport—don’t even know who this guy is and yet my stomach dropped the second he entered the frame. Shifts elegantly and effortlessly from passive character study to (potential) tryst piece to full-blown thriller without jamming the gears once. Detours into a few moments of artistic detachment—Hae-mi’s slow-mo hilltop dance, for one—but those indulgences somehow slip perfectly into the framework of her projected headspace and carry actual thematic weight, well beyond pure showmanship. (The way Lee abruptly drops out the saxophone track to reveal the diegetic sounds of wind and mooing cows juxtaposes this “Expectation vs. Reality” situation perfectly.) Hell, even the less-opaque-than-I’d-have-liked finale had me cowering anxiously with anticipation (and, to be fair, I still wasn’t expecting [that] to happen [when] it happens + Jong-su’s actions afterwards are sufficiently perplexing and arresting in their own right), slack-jawed at the level of beauty Lee’s able to materialize from such a dire situation.

Tons of things you could pull from this ; socioeconomic division seems to be the thing everyone’s ganging up on right away, but I’d argue that there’s something much deeper to be said about loneliness and seclusion and the mind games we play, often with our own selves. Who’s to say this isn’t all taking place is Jong-su’s head, that Ben isn’t his self-conjured alter-ego, that the greenhouse inferno “dream” wasn’t just a flashback, and that Hae-mi’s not just a wish-fulfillment vision of his deprived emotional/sexual state? ”Don’t imagine that the orange is there, but forget that it’s not there.”

Probably not. But damn, there are L-A-Y-E-R-S to this. Imminent revisit necessary.

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