Burning (2018)

Lee Chang-dong
Running Time: 148 Minutes
Starring: Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, Jeon Jong-seo, Kim Soo-kyung, Choi Seung-ho, Moon Sung-keun, Min Bok-gi, Lee Soo-jeong, Ban Hye-ra, Cha Mi-Kyung, Lee Bong-ryeon

While out on a job, part-time deliveryman Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) runs into Hae-Mi (Jeon Jong-seo), someone who lived in his neighbourhood during their childhood. After reconnecting, Hae-Mi asks if he can look after her cat while she's on a trip to Africa. Jong-su finds he's fallen in love with her, but upon her return, she arrives with Ben (Steven Yeun), an enigmatic young man she met on her trip. The three share in each others company, making for an uneasy love triangle, until Hae-Mi goes missing.

When asked what his writing aspirations are, our lead puts forth his wishes to write about the world. "The world is a mystery", a quote he declares which carries truth, and is very appropriate for this film. We can look back upon memories, or gaze upon pieces which seemingly point to one clear outcome, but the nagging question stays in the back of the mind: What if that's wrong? Lee Chang-dong offers no easy answers or tidy resolutions, and the result is a compelling one that's sure to stick with you.

Chang-dong chooses to filter the events through Jong-su perspective, resulting in Ben being seen as the suave and confident person our shy lead wishes he could be, and looking at Hae-Mi as the manic pixie dream girl archetype. Because of this, he only sees what he wants, and fails to see Hae-Mi for the more interesting person she actually is. It's an interesting aspect, and can speak truths to many people.

A key component of Jong-su is his troubled relationship with his stubborn father, whom he describes as bottling everything up until it explodes, and destroys everything around. As much as Jong-su has clear contempt for his father, it's had a clear influence upon him, and the pair are even more alike than he would care to admit. At a first glance, it may seem like Yoo Ah-in is giving a vacant performance, but this is not true. He's embodying the character extremely well, attempting to process it all while struggling under the weight, and find an answer which doesn't point to a worst case scenario.

It could've been easy to play the role as a complete archetype, but Jeon Jong-seo puts many fascinating layers into her beguiling character. Dissatisfied with life and feeling unable to see her own family, she wants to escape for something more than what life offers her. The most beautiful scene centres around Hae-Mi, as she dances to smooth jazz, across the backdrop of a sunset. This gorgeous image captures her being lost in the moment, as the music causes her personal troubles to disappear, even just for that small amount of time. This makes it all the more heartbreaking when the music ends, as she crashes back to reality, and cries accordingly. It's a moment that sticks in the mind long after, and it's largely thanks to a wonderful performance.

From the moment he comes in, viewers are unsure what to make of Ben. He's a mysterious figure described by Jong-su as The Great Gatsby, a rich man who you're clueless on what he does for work. The closest to an answer he gives is that he "plays", doing what he loves for a living. There's no hint as to what that could be, but with complete certainty, it can be said he's a privileged man who needs no excuse to inflate his own ego. This is evident when he talks about cooking for himself, and compares it to "making an offering to the gods". Steven Yeun does fantastic work, delivering what is sure to be looked back upon as one of the best roles of his career.

Throughout the 148 minute runtime, a recurring theme pops up as to the ease with which something can disappear, as though it never once existed. It's a terrifying prospect that Lee Chang-dong is keen to bring up, while ensuring it never applies to the film itself. Burning is a gripping experience that flies by, proving haunting as it sticks in the mind long after.