‘Burning’ is truly on fire

by Christian Ramos on January 11, 2019

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Solid Rock Fist Up] 

Looking back at the year 2018, it truly was a year for top-notch foreign films. From the reaches of Mexico, Japan, Poland and many more countries, the films released last year took stories of everyday people and threw them all into life changing situations.

To join in the group, from South Korea, Burning is another story of an ordinary man Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) thrown into a difficult situation between a new romance with Shin Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo) and her new friend Ben (Steven Yeun of The Walking Dead) that all cumulates in a mystery thriller.

Directed by Lee Chang-dong, Burning is an fascinating story that is the epitome of the phrase “always keeps you guessing.”

While walking through town, Jong-su runs into Hae-mi, an old childhood friend who he can barely remember and they spark up their old friendship once more. Hae-mi tells him than she is on her way to Africa and if he could possibly watch over her cat making sure it’s fed. An odd request, but after having sex, why wouldn’t he want to help this girl out ,despite the fact he has yet to see the cat?

On her return, she introduces Lee to Ben whom she met on her trip when both were stuck in the airport together. Ben is an interesting fellow who shows little to no emotion and doesn’t understand those around him who ever would show emotion. The trio hang out together and reminisce on old memories. One night, Ben confess to Jong-su of a hobby of his, the titular “burning.” He enjoys burning abandoned greenhouses for reasons not fully explained. Jong-su watches over the next few days of any reports of greenhouse burning and also in the following days searches for Hae-mi who has suddenly abandoned her apartment and vanished. Jong-su tries to understand if anybody, especially Ben knows where she has gone.

Burning is a long film, and this review is trying its best to be spoiler-free to add to the wonder and experiential sensation of this film. There is really two parts: The first half being Jong-su watching over Hae-mi’s apartment, meeting Ben and hanging out with Ben, and the second half is the mystery of Hae-mi’s sudden disappearance and subsequent events.

At the root of it, Burning is a mystery in two ways. The first is that we don’t really know a lot about any of the characters. Jong-su has a personal family issue going on but we don’t get much out of it. Hae-mi and Ben are for the most part very shady characters that we can never fully trust throughout. Second, though we don’t see it much, what really is “burning”? Is Ben all he’s cracked up to be or is there more. This is writing at its finest. There doesn’t need to be a whole lot of answers to any of this because the audience is on Jong-su’s side no matter what and will follow him to his deepest doubts on what is happening.

This film was a big contender at last years Cannes Film Festival. It’s no wonder because it is for lack of better words pretty damn good. It uses a lot of great cinematographic imagery to convey a sense of mystery and dream-like atmosphere. There’s a scene where the sound is completely muted and it’s like watching a dream slowly turn into a nightmare.

Burning in and of itself is just that: a dream turning into a nightmare piece by piece.

Christian Ramos is a recent graduate of KU with a B.A. in Film & Media Studies. When he’s not watching movies, he likes to brag about the pointless Oscar trivia he knows, remembers that time he dressed as Steven Spielberg for Halloween and shows off his tweet that Julianne Moore liked.

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