“To me, the world is a mystery.”
Burning is a South Korean film that tells the story of a young man, Lee Jong-su, who while working one day, runs into a childhood friend, Shin Hae-mi. When Hae-mi leaves on a trip to Africa, she returns with a new friend Ben. The three embark on a series of intimate friendship get-togethers before Jong-su finds out some revealing information about this mysterious new friend. Burning, led more or less by a team of unknowns, shines to its fullest. Creating a modern masterpiece in the process.
I was a little split on Burning when I watched it. As I was 30 minutes into the film, I started to wonder what all the hoopla was about. It wasn’t “wowing” me. I thought the prolonged introduction of these characters was far too overemphasized for the film, which then caused me to believe that the first half dragged. But as I finished the film, and went on with my day, the film stuck with me. I began to contemplate it further and further, unable to shake these characters from my mind. The lives of these three people, which in the big scheme of things, are all intertwined by chance. They began to create a loose sort of love triangle, with their individual stories developing overtime, as you fully flesh out the type of people that they are. What I thought was a mere over-analysis of characters on screen was for the purpose to see the story in a different light as certain characters’ mannerism began to repeat under similar situations. So in the case of slowly building up and adding layers the characters, it causes us to realize that when the big moments begin to hit… boy, do they hit you straight in the face.
The actors of Burning do so much with their characters. I was deeply surprised at how these technically unknown actors hit every mark in the film. Ah-in Yoo, who plays Jong-su, holds this film together and drives the point home with his paranoia and anxiety. As the whirlwind of emotion increases, Yoo makes us feel these feelings as our heart begins to beat faster and faster. Now I’ve never been a huge fan of The Walking Dead, but Steven Yeun absolutely nails the performance of Ben. His characteristics are marked with egotistical smugness that befits his character so well. It’s a rare sight to see from him. My vague attempts to critique their performances are due to the fact that if I say too much, I may spoil the depth of these characters’ personalities. But with all the acting glory, I want to take a moment to recognize what I really loved about Burning. The cinematography in this film is absolutely amazing! I fail to understand how cinematography of this caliber has not been recognized. Every scene in this movie looked like a piece of artwork. This is some of the best looking cinematography that I’ve seen recently, besides the usual greats that we have.
Burning is incredible. It is a film that will take your breath away. Everything about it oozes beauty and genius at every turn. It may take some time to fully grasp its goodness, or you may find it a masterpiece right off the bat. Whichever you are, Burning will grab you, wrestle you to the ground, and screw with your mind, because this film takes no prisoners.
Directed by: Chang-dong Lee
Starring: Ah-in Yoo, Jong-seo Jun, Steven Yeun