• Melissa Kartini

Movie Review: Burning a Slow, Sweet Burn That Mesmerises

Updated: Aug 3, 2018


  • Genre: Drama/Mystery

  • Rating: PG-13

  • Language: Korean

  • Subtitles: English/Chinese

  • Starring: Yoo Ah-in, Jeon Jong-seo, Steven Yeun

While I'm not the most familiar with Korean movies, I have watched enough to have a relatively good impression of them.


The fact that Steven Yeun of "The Walking Dead" is in this made things even better, of course. I had to do a double-take when I saw him in the trailer, speaking Korean no less. After being so used to listening him speak in English episode after episode in "The Walking Dead", that was interesting, to say the least.


So it was the glowing reviews that "Burning" has garnered thus far, coupled with the trailer's own dark, terse air of mystery and my love for Glenn Rhee that powered my curiosity for this film.


What is it about?

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The film begins simply enough. Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in), who lives off odd jobs, one day comes across a woman called Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), a childhood neighbour and classmate whom he doesn't remember. After doing a bit of catching up, she suggests that they have drinks later at night. He agrees. Later at the restaurant, Hae-mi confesses that she used to like him but he always ignored her. She then tells him about her plan to travel to Africa and asks him to feed her cat while she's away.


She asks him to come over to her apartment the next day, and he does so. There, they have sex.


Once Hae-mi goes off to Africa, Jong-su dutifully goes over to her apartment everyday to feed her cat. Not once does he see or hear it--according to Hae-mi, her cat was shy and does not show itself to strangers--but the presence of faeces in the litter box attests to the existence of a cat.

When the day of her return finally comes, Jong-su is filled with anticipation, having taken an obvious shine to her. He even turns up at the airport to pick her up when asked, the hope in his demeanour too evident to ignore. Alas, when she appears, she is accompanied with a handsome man she had met during her trip, a fellow South Korean named Ben (Steven Yeun).


The difference in social class between Jong-su and Ben is incomparable. Jong-su, a farmboy who currently lives in a shabby house, pales severely in comparison to confident Ben and his Porshe, luxury apartment and overall high-end lifestyle.


All is well until Hae-mi one day disappears, casting suspicion on Ben for being the reason behind her vanishing act. Before she completely disappeared without a trace, though, she had called Jong-su; there were sounds of running and struggling before the call was disconnected. That was the last he heard from her. What could have happened to her? Concerned, Jong-su begins to trail Ben around South Korea, determined to find out what had happened to Hae-mi...


Is it worth a watch?

There is a lot that can be said about "Burning", and at the same time, not. "Burning" is one of those curious films that make you more and more unsure as to what you had just watched the more you think about it. Was the conclusion you had initially drawn about a particular scene the right one? Or is this one other possibility the correct one? Or is it another? The longer you stew over the possibilities, the more uncertain you become.


Among the film's mysteries have to do with the characters' intentions and relationships with one another. Did Jong-su ever mean anything to Hae-mi? Or did she make up ever having any interest in him? It can be hard to tell, given the many conflicting details that lay strewn all over the movie; some would be in support of her thinking highly of Jong-su, some would state that she was a liar, capable of making up highly believable stories. If the latter were true, then she is a natural.

Then there's the matter of Ben. Armed with a gentlemanly smile and charisma, Ben is one of the film's bigger mysteries, with the possible conclusions for his character being a psychopathic murderer at worst or someone who's trying to extend an olive branch to Jong-su at best. At the very middle, one could conclude that he's just a liar; a liar who tries to look like he veers on the dangerous side of society to make himself look good. Again, thanks to "Burning's" ambiguity, it can be hard to tell.


Don't get me wrong, though. This particular brand of ambiguity is just one of the film's many charms, and I daresay that it is one of the main ones. The one other charm is its fluid, dream-like storytelling that is reminiscent of Haruki Murakami's work (fitting, as "Burning" is based on a short story by the famed Japanese novelist).


While these two qualities don't exactly make "Burning" unique, they are enough to make it stand out from the usual style of storytelling. You know the kind; the tried-and-true formula of beginning, middle, climax and end.


"Burning" feels more like a character analysis than anything else. A raw, beautiful and heartbreaking one, at that. At the end of the day, though, the film is what you make of it.


"Burning" is hitting cinemas this 2nd August 2018!


Written by Crunch's Melissa Kartini

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