03rd Jan2019

‘Burning’ Review

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: Ah-in Yoo, Steven Yeun, Jong-seo Jun, Soo-Kyung Kim, Seung-ho Choi, Seong-kun Mun, Bok-gi Min, Soo-Jeong Lee, Hye-ra Ban, Mi-Kyung Cha, Bong-ryeon Lee | Written by Chang-dong Lee, Jung-mi Oh | Directed by Chang-dong Lee


Beoning, or more commonly known in international territories as Burning, is the first feature from South Korean director and auteur Chang-dong Lee after a staggering eight-year absence. His latest feature (much like its namesake) is a slow-burning fuse to a warhead of colossally disturbing and deeply amatory radiance of vibrant, albeit nightmarish mysticism.

At an eye-watering one hundred and forty-minute running time, Chang-dong Lee just about manages to pull off his daring tightrope trick of atmospheric tension and build up with a deliciously enigmatic and divisive thriller. Even the likes of his contemporaries in Quentin Tarantino and Luca Guadagnino, often fail to truly balance the grasp of entertainment/intoxication of their story and running time to balance said art. Accompanied by breathtaking visuals from cinematographer Kyung-pyo Hong that dazzle in a pure and ever so delicate manner, personifying the true beauty and juxtaposition of social circumstance. As does the stoic, yet often contumacious score by composer Mowg, that fits in a manner of uncertainty, but as the film progresses with its themes of social politics it becomes clear that the rather understated score arguably provides the films most powerful attribute in silent animosity.

Admittedly in Burning‘s final act, it becomes tediously close to self-indulgence and wains in certain areas of regurgitation and repetition without a clear or predictable end in sight, but that’s the beauty of Lee’s clever and resourceful film – the induced self-immolation. Characters develop in the bravado and prowess of an assured believability and ultimately a sincerely genuine engagement. From start to finish the picture is intoxicatingly intrusive and deeply elongated with its threads of emotional exhaustion and nightmarish weariness of infatuation. Sure, it takes its time to melt away and pressure cook the subjects at hand, but isn’t that when the meat is at its most tender? The running time only reinforces the overall thread of mindless direction contextually with its characters. The slow and dilatory days of human life in its most brutal and conventional fashion – a mundane lifestyle. The fragments of mediocrity and familiarity, inadvertently or not, beg for fire and fury. It’s only when they collide with calamity is the desperation of normality.

The result is a compelling piece of tense evocative and calamitous storytelling that slowly bubbles away into a nihilistic and frantic finale that crushes any preconceived or predictable notion the film entails. A striking and stunning piece of cinema that bubbles a poisonous underbelly of frantic emotional erosion.


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