The 2018 Vancouver International Film Festival is underway and we’re sending writers out to enjoy it. Stay tuned in the coming weeks, as they share their thoughts about this year’s films.
Directed by: Chang-dong Lee
At face-value, Burning is a mystery story, but as the film progresses, it becomes clearer that the story more so channels a Greek tragedy. It becomes less about a young man’s quest to solve the disappearance of his lover, but more so about whether he is too overcome with rage to rationally solve it. South Korean director Chang-dong Lee masterfully crafts an unconventional thriller in Burning, where he allows human rage to simmer until it eventually governs the narrative.
Burning is two-and-a-half hours of pure, slow-burn tension.
Adapted from Haruki Murakami’s short story “Barn Burning”, the film follows Jongsu Lee (Ah-In Yoo, Six Flying Dragons), an aspiring young writer making ends meet working as a courier. He becomes romantically involved with a childhood friend, Haemi (newcomer Jong-seo Jeon) until she leaves for a trip to Africa. When Haemi returned, it came to Jongsu’s disappointment when she was accompanied by a wealthy, handsome, bachelor named Ben (Steven Yeun, The Walking Dead). In contrast to Ben’s affluence, Jongsu grapples with an inferiority complex as Haemi becomes increasingly enamoured with the richer man.
Jongsu begins to notice signs of sociopathic behaviour in Ben. His suspicions were affirmed when Ben eventually confesses of his unusual hobby: burning greenhouses. Ben burns greenhouses every two months, and he warns that the next one would be near to Jongsu. Jongsu then accuses Haemi of being a harlot. This was the last time Jongsu ever saw Haemi, leaving him to harbour his guilt and frustration as he frantically searches for her.
Burning is two-and-a-half hours of pure, slow-burn tension that immerses in Jongsu’s psychological unease. Yoo’s poignant performance absorbs the viewer to be one with his character’s racing thoughts. With ambiguous dialogue, symbolism, a haunting score, and harrowing character dynamics, Burning is a film that requires patience from its audience. Lee’s narrative is disinterested in concrete resolutions and instead prioritizes engrossing the viewer in its philosophically-rich themes.