Review: Burning

As we prepare for the greatest season of all time, we are all scrambling to get ready. No, I’m not talking about the Holidays, I am talking about Awards Season. All the film and TV lovers, are prepping by watching anything that could be potentially a nominee. On my quest to figure out the nominations this year, I decided to watch a few films that premiered and gained some buzz at TIFF 2018. Which lead me into exploring a South Korean mystery thriller called, Burning, directed by Lee Chong-dong.

Based on a short story by Haruki Murakami, the film follows a young man named Lee Jong-su who works whatever job he can to support himself. One day he runs into an old childhood friend whom he does not remember, Shin Hae-mi. As they start to hang out more together, the more he starts to fall for her and thinks about a future with her. When Hae-mi goes to Africa to find an adventure, she asks him to look after her cat for her while she is away. When she comes home he goes to pick her up in his truck however, she comes home with a mysterious man named Ben (played by Steven Yuen from The Walking Dead). Jong-Su is intimidated by this man as he lives a very posh life and drives a Porsche, which threatens his potential romantic relationship with Hae-mi. One day, Hae-mi disappears without a trace with her cell phone disconnected, her apartment is a wreck, and her cat is also missing. Something sinister and mysterious lies ahead.

The film has strong performances from the actors as they manage to portray the raw emotion and complexity of the human condition. It is a film that looks for the beauty in the ugly grey parts in life. Possibly the best part about the film is the major plot shift from a story about a love triangle into a mysterious thriller. Without skipping a beat, the film goes from making observations about the human condition and life to destroying any assumptions we made about the story and its characters. The hero of the story, the person the audience should root for cannot be trusted suddenly, as he could be an unreliable narrator. Suddenly truth and meaning are warped as we are distrustful of the characters and question whether what we saw happened the way it did.

For a mystery thriller, it was unconventionally long. Most thrillers are shorter just to keep the pace and suspense balanced out, but in this 2 ½ hour film, it felt very drawn out. In some moments I found myself waiting for something to happen. The film is called Burning on purpose because it is a slow burning dance of Jong-su emotions of love for Hae-mi, and jealousy and revenge for Ben. It is an intelligent and subtle way of storytelling; however, the pacing could be better.

Another thing to nitpick is the characterization of Hae-mi. The actress’ performance was stellar, and I wished she had more screen time, however, the character reminded me of the infamous film trope; the manic pixie dream girl. She’s pretty but also self-deprecating and has a lust for life. She immediately has sex with Jong-su a few minutes into the film and he even pleasures himself in her apartment when he goes to check up on her cat. She is a tool to teach the broodingly and tragic hero of the story to find embrace adventures and life’s mysteries.

Despite the pacing and the female character trope, the film is still beautifully crafted with its intelligent storytelling, trancelike cinematography, and gripping musical soundtrack. If you plan to bet on what will be nominated this awards seasons, look out for Burning.

Burning is currently playing at TIFF Bell Lightbox and university students get a discount, so make sure to bring your OneCard if you plan to see this film!

Post by: Jessi Law

Posted in Blog.