Director: Chang-dong Lee
Release Date: October 26, 2018
The word brilliant is thrown around far too often. Seems like every time someone puts in an above-average performance someone deems it as brilliant. With that being said, Burning is … brilliant. A compelling slow-burn mystery from director and former high school teacher Chang-dong Lee, Burning keeps us engaged and on the edge of our seat while showing everyone “this is how it’s done.”
Lead actor Ah-In Yoo puts the team on his back as he is on screen for almost all 148 minutes. He plays Jong-su, a hardworking farmer and aspiring writer in South Korea who has just reconnected with an old neighbor Haemi (Jong-seo Jeon). Haemi asks him to watch her cat while she takes a trip to Africa. When she returns she introduces him to her new friend, Ben (Steven Yeun), who is mysteriously rich, charming and handsome.
The film’s first 30 minutes may seem like a slow start but they are completely necessary for what’s to come. Lee slowly ticks up the intensity seemingly every moment without getting out of hand. The story really heats up when Haemi goes missing without a trace and Jong-su seems to be the only one searching for her. We see the depths that Jong-su will go to find her or uncover the nasty truth about her backstory. In searching, we wonder is this for love or something more internally?
The tension between each character builds as more is revealed about their past. It is a classic game of cat and mouse as we’ve seen before, but never with this amount of ambiguity surrounding the characters. By the final scene you’re left speechless with the series of events that took place. The realism puts the audience in every scene, making the film that much more thrilling.
Chang-dong Lee does an excellent job of adding depth to each character as the film goes on by leaving just enough unanswered questions to give your mind something to chew on but revealing enough to make them interesting.
The score (or lack thereof) adds to the realism, putting us in the room with the characters. We can hear their breathing, footsteps and even the way their cigarettes burn in some of the most intense moments. Lee uses the silence to his advantage, as it amplifies the eerie dark music for the few times it’s actually used in the more suspenseful scenes. It feels ear piercingly loud compared to the quiet scenes in the rest of the film.
I fell in love with movies in the fall of 2007. I had just seen the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men. I left the theater completely speechless, which had happened a time or two before, but what made this movie different was how it stuck in my mind for weeks to come. Very few movies have affected me this way. But writing this only two days after seeing Burning, I fully believe it holds up in the same way. With so many things to unpack from each character, the plot line and the different themes woven into the plot, it was difficult to put into words how this movie made me feel. Burning will leave you thinking about it for weeks to come, making it one of the best movies of the year.