Burning is a South Korean drama directed by Lee Chang-Dong. It is based on a 20 page short story Barn Burning written by famed Japanese author Haruki Murakami. Burning is a long and mysterious slow-burn, full of suspense and arrives here off the back of garnering the highest critic score at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.
The movie follows Yoo Ah-in (Lee Jong-Su), a socially awkward young man, who goes around South Korea. This is where he meets Haemi, who’s working at a lottery outlet. They go back to Haemi’s apartment and have sex. Later she asks him to mind her cat, a cat which you don’t see and could assume doesn’t exist, while she goes on a trip to Africa. The trip to Africa perhaps may or may not have happened. These are some of the un-answered questions that go through your head while you’re watching the film. When she arrives back from her trip to Africa she meets Lee at the airport but she is accompanied by Ben (Walking Dead’s Steven Yeung), an exuberant character in contrast to Yoo Ah-in. From here on in the suspense begins to very slowly unfold. I won’t go any deeper into the plot of the film as it is very slow moving and trying to explain interesting scenes would result in accidental spoilers.
The movie has a beautiful soundtrack consisting mostly of jazz coming from the speakers in either Ben’s Porsche or from his fancy apartment. There are some strong scenes like one scene where Lee is dreaming of himself as a child watching a greenhouse burn in complete silence.
Burning, though slow burning at times, has enough spark to illuminate a fascination with the plight of its protagonists. It’s also paired with a fantastic soundtrack and beguiling imagery. Burning never goes in the direction you expect it and, as such, its beauty and mystery remains at the core of its appeal.
Currently screening in the IFI. Details here