Burning is quite a lot of things. It is most notably South Korean director/screenwriter/novelist, Lee Chang-Dong’s first film in almost a decade.
Synopsis: BURNING is the searing examination of an alienated young man, Jongsu, a frustrated introvert whose already difficult life is complicated by the appearance of two people into his orbit: first, Haemi, a spirited woman who offers romantic possibility, and then, Ben, a wealthy and sophisticated young man she returns from a trip with. When Jongsu learns of Ben’s mysterious hobby and Haemi suddenly disappears, his confusion and obsessions begin to mount, culminating in a stunning finale. (Well Go USA Entertainment)
Writers: Jungmi Oh and Chang-Dong Lee
Director: Chang-Dong Lee
Running Time: 148mins
Only God knows what the man was doing during this great space of time but judging by the final product of his latest film, we can only assume that Chang-Dong is reassessing the craft of filmmaking and how he wants to approach it. Despite not having seen much of his other narrative works, unfortunately, it is clear that this film is vastly different from anything he has made yet, just like it is vastly different from any other film so far this year.
It is no surprise that Chang-Dong and Oh’s screenplay is adapted from the endlessly blissful short story by Haruki Murakami, Barn Burning, due to how punctual every frame of this marvel is. Hong Kyung-Pyo translates Murakami’s vivid descriptions perfectly and ends up assisting in Chang-Dong’s elaboration on the narrative to a degree of wonderment. It only proves how much of a talent Kyung-Pyo is when he bounces from cold films like Snowpiercer, to a picture as elegant and lively as this one; every scene feels like a lengthy equation which ends up equating to a bursting rainbow of a product.
Many lines and similarities can be drawn towards cinema of the past. The ranging works of Alfred Hitchcock provide an abundant amount of inspiration to a great amount of the scenes in this film. It’s comparable to Vertigo, when acknowledging the aspects of Ben’s (Yeun) mental downward spiral, which later involves into changes around his physical world. Not to mention the dialogue-based intensity of Rope, even though the script doesn’t strictly rely on a melodramatic plot device to drive it forward. The writing here is more focused on extracting the brief moments of beauty and anxiety in reality, combining those two in a homogenous mixture that leads to something both beautiful and terrifying.
To fulfill onscreen representations of subtlety to their emotional brink while still remaining, well, subtle, a cast with a great amount of emotional range, imagination and patience is required. Thankfully, every actor seen on screen harnesses their character with such understanding and reality to a degree where it’s almost concerning. Yeun transforms in the smallest ways. However, those pieces eventually form together to create a bigger picture which still generates confusion to why your skin seems to develop goosebumps every time he’s around, all you know is that his character has that effect. The instant relatability and likability of Ah-In Yoo’s performance and character, Lee Jong-su, also creates an emotional connection before the inciting incident even has time to make its case known. These two characters are essentially Yin and Yang, which leads to countless interactions between the duo that leaves the audience on the edge of their seat for the entirety of the dialogue.
It’s hard to thoroughly talk about the genius going on behind the scenes and seen in what’s immediately projected, as there would still be multiple elements and secrets to pick up on after an infinite amount of viewings. This is a film that welcomes you in warmly, then buries itself into the deepest nooks and crannies in your subconscious, until your lying awake at night with the picture’s frame flying in front of your eyes. It’s a film that must be experienced rather than observed and overall, it’s one of the very best that 2018 has to offer. What an incredible work of art.