Mesmeric, mournful, mystifying and magnificently beautiful, Lee Chang-dong’s Burning – made a whopping 8 years after his acclaimed previous film Poetry – is a movie that revels in its delectable subversion of expectations. Loosely adapted from Murakami’s lovely short story Barn Burning, it’s alternately a slow-burn thriller, melancholic chronicle of lost souls, whiplash commentary on the irreconcilable class differences in the hypercapitalistic Seoul milieu, and deliciously beguiling cinematic enigma. The deliberately paced narrative comprises of three key characters – Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in), a part-time delivery guy, aspiring writer and young loner belonging to a broken family; Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), a sassy, attractive, dreamy, impulsive, gullible, debt-ridden girl-woman who stays in a shoebox flat, and floats in a make-believe world of non-existent tangerines and invisible cats; and Ben (Steven Yeun), a suave, wealthy modern-day Gatsby who resides in a posh Gangnam apartment, drives an expensive coupé and whose detached demeanour is complemented by his mysterious personal life and ennui. Jong-su develops a curiously affecting relationship with the delightfully eccentric Hae-mi upon a chance meeting at a store. A complex new dynamic emerges, however, when she returns from a long-planned trip to Africa with Ben who reveals to Jong-su, during an impromptu meet-up, his bizarre love for burning greenhouses. And, the narratives takes an eerily compelling turn when Hae-mi vanishes into thin air – reminding me of Sputnik Sweetheart even before I was aware of the film’s origin – which left a haunting effect in how no one misses her absence except for Jong-su. The dazzling portrayals, screenplay laced with teasing ambiguities, striking cinematography, idiosyncratic score, and a tone suffused with suspicion and sadness made this a perfect symphony to savour on a slow, lazy afternoon.
Director: Lee Chang-dong
Genre: Psychological Thriller/Mystery
Country: South Korea