Burning (2018)

March 19th, 2022
Author: Meredith Taylor

Lee Chang dong, Oh Jung mi | 143’ | South Korea | Drama 

Lee Chang-dong’s sees a rich guy and an honest worker compete for the affections of an enigmatic young woman in his mysterious slow burner that sizzles with a seductive spell and intoxicates for over two hours with its captivating storytelling and strikingly atmospheric score by Mowg.

‘A literary adaptation’ can sound warning bells but this standout psychological thriller breathes life into a short story from Haruki Murakami, adapted by Lee and his co-writer Oh Jung-mi who keep things deceptively simple yet alluring with a thematically rich ride set to Hong Kyung-pyo’s sumptuous cinematography, and enfused with themes of privilege, class, stifled creativity and revenge.

Lonely budding writer Jongsu comes from a poor and dysfunctional family background and works as a deliveryman near the North Korean border where he is unexpectedly invited into the bed of his former school friend who later returns from a trip to Africa with suave but unassuming new boyfriend in the shape of Korean hotshot Ben (Yeun Steven), who seems rather to smooth to be true. But then the story becomes more complex. Jongsu (Yoo Ah-in) has really fallen for the charming but insecure Haemi (Jun Jong-seo), who remembers his harsh comments on her appearance back in the day, and has since had plastic surgery.

A loose friendship soon develops between the threesome and for a while the story hums along gently mulling over its cultural references and glorying in its low key placid perfection. But all is not well in paradise and the tone takes a sinister turn after Ben confesses to being somewhat of a pyrotechnic with a penchant for greenhouse burning, and we witness this in a startling bonfire that seethes in silence. This heats up the whole affair with Haemi going missing and the two men coming head to head in a violent climax. With dynamite performances from the trio this is an elegantly crafted thriller from a Korean master at the top of his game. MT


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