Review: Burning, starring The Walking Deads Steven Yeun, is one of the years best

BURNING (Lee Chang-dong). 148 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (November 2). See listing. Rating: NNNNNIn Lee Chang-dongs earlier films like Secret.


BURNING (Lee Chang-dong). 148 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (November 2). See listing. Rating: NNNNN

In Lee Chang-dongs earlier films like Secret Sunshine and Poetry, tormented souls grapple with how to find calm after a childs murder or how to cope with a grandchild who may be a rapist.

The master tragedian sets up straightforward predicaments to conjure up cruel, complicated emotions and patiently explore moral questions that no one should ever be asked to answer. All the while his characters search for beauty or grace or something comforting.

The emotional torment in Chang-dongs latest, Burning, is not as easy to pinpoint, but its there. Even if you cant name it, you can feel it.

Adapting and expanding Haruki Murakamis short story Barn Burning, the film follows Jongsu (Yoo Ah-in), a wannabe author who cant decide what he wants to write, which makes sense for a guy who has very little to say. By his own admission, he cant make sense of the world, but that much is clear long before he says it.

Jongsu is lured into a tryst with Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), a girl from his old village who recites memories that may or may not have happened. She enlists him to feed a cat that may or may not be in her cramped apartment while she travels to Kenya. Hae-mi subsequently returns with another man, Ben, who may or may not be her new boyfriend.

The latter, played by The Walking Deads Steven Yeun, is suave with a menacing smirk. Yeun slips into this Korean-language film with ease, but his American demeanour informs the mysteriously rich Bens chin-up arrogance.

A jealous triangle forms, where class plays a pivotal, prickly and barely spoken role. But Jongsus anxiety runs deeper than that.

At the midway point, the film shifts into a slow-burn mystery thriller where resolutions stubbornly remain as far out as the horizon.

This is a soulful, hypnotic drama about a young man who obsessively seeks answers but has no way of grasping that kind of control over his own narrative. Its also one of the years very best films.

Embrace the mystery and feel the rage.

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