Director (& screenplay): Chang-dong Lee
Cast: Ah-In Yoo, Steven Yeun, Jong-seo Jeon
Eight years after Poetry, Korean filmmaker Lee Chang-Dong adapts Japanese writer Haruki Murakami’s novel on the coded twists and turns of a love triangle. After a chance encounter with Haemi, a former girlfriend, Jongsu, a young courier, agrees to feed her cat while she goes to Africa. To Jongsu’s chagrin, she returns in the company of a mysterious, rich stranger, Ben. A powerful social message and bewitching lyricism lies behind this patient but fascinating thriller. It is an odyssey to the heart of uncertainty and it will haunt you long after the credits have rolled. – Festival du Nouveau Cinema
First of all, lets clear the air that I have never read or heard of the source material that Burning is adapted from so there is no comparison to be made. What I offer is the film experience as a whole.
With that said, Burning is an intriguing story to say the least. Albeit, a slow paced, slow burning sort of film experience. The idea here is a really good one from its first act of our main character, Jongsu meeting again his high school friend, Haemi who he develops feelings for and ends up agreeing to feed her cat while she goes to a dream vacation to Africa. At the same time, he has a change in his life as he goes to take care of his father’s property and we slowly learn why as his back story unfolds bit by bit as well. Things change in the second act upon Haemi’s return with a new friend, Ben, an offputting yet social and rich young man. There are so many awkward and comedic moments that show off each of these characters. It also helps that the movie was generally in three or four acts. From meeting Haemi to Jongsu waiting for her to get back to their time spent with Ben and then Jongsu’s search.
Ah-In Yoo plays the young courrier Jongsu who seems very much like a wallflower. He doesn’t have a direction and follows around Haemi and easily follows others in what they do and doesn’t make a first move while he does find joy in some of the little things. He is a quiet and introvert character that we see have a decent amount of development throughout the film. On the other hand, Haemi is an odd ray of sunshine. She is expressive and very much an open book even in her weird obsession with her search for the hunger of the meaning of life and such. Which leads us to our final character and a familiar face, Ben played by Steve Yeun who I have never seen speak Korean let alone expect to be in a Korean film. His character is mysterious but its almost too obvious that he has something more because of just how he answers all questions vaguely. But there is a very great moment of reveal when things link together and that is what I liked about it.
Mysterious phone calls, missing crush and dark secrets are the basis of Burning. Its a character study set in the midst of a thriller. At some point, it gets a little blurry in the second half as the movie drags on for longer than it feels necessary. It feels like a tighter execution might have rendered it more fun to watch. That really is the one complaint I have of this film. The cast themselves do a fantastic job and the director takes great care in framing the shots and the details with lighting and atmosphere. All things I like to watch and see in films.