Vince The Cinephile’s review published on Letterboxd:
It’s been almost a decade since South Korea’s Lee Chang-dong made a movie, his last was in 2010 for the remarkable film Poetry which I adored. Eight years later, he’s still at the very top of his game—in the line of his contemporaries like Bong Joon-ho, Park Chan-wook, and Hong Sang-soo—with a mindtrip of a mystery thriller-drama BURNING.
One of my most anticipated films this year, Burning proves to a be a true anticipated affair with how such a simple story unfold in a memory-like, meditative, flawless execution. Adapted from Haruki Murakami’s short story Barn Burning, the film follows an aspiring, but hopeless writer and his search for a female friend who suddenly disappeared. Burning puts the emphasis on the word slow-burn as it runs for two hours and half, the "only" complaint I have.
Lee Chang-dong shows a true director master class with his technique as a dramatist and a director. The mystery of Burning is felt through meditatively and subtly. Lee fills his imagery with so much poeticism, nature, and elements that are worthy of a second look. He takes his film sequences with delicate, pure feeling without any kind of manipulation and/or cheap sentimentality. The unraveling of Burning will surely polarize audiences because for some reason, it’s kind of predictable/anti-climactic of how the story’s going to turn out. However, Lee is a smart filmmaker to still keep us guessing and intrigued with what’s happening. My only complaint is its running time which I believe is too long for a “simple” narrative like this.
Burning rises with a lot of insightful queries on contemporary Korean society that includes consumerism, class relations, male envy, and rage. Lee handled his themes really well, and the way the mise-en-scene presented these issues are thought-provoking, beguiling, and somehow terrifying. The acting is not the film’s greatest strength but the performances are remarkable enough relying on the low-key energies of its mainly three actors—Yoo Ah-in, Jeon Jong-seo, and the film’s MVP Steven Yeun.
Overall, Burning is a terrific comeback for Mr. Lee. It’s a beautifully-rendered film contained with small, beautiful details of life’s everyday mysteries. It doesn’t have the emotional resonance of Poetry, and Secret Sunshine, but Burning has the ultimate technical display of Mr. Lee’s effortless, sheer filmmaking artistry.