I have been really behind on my foreign films this year. I can’t even think of what I have seen with mostly subtitles this year. Not including the beginning of the year when I was hitting up last years Oscar nominees. Basically, it would have been during WorldFest, when I was in a theater with them, and that was in April. I legit haven’t watched a foreign film since April, and that kind of blows my mind.
I know there has been opportunities, but a lot of it comes from my inability to cross stitch while watching a foreign film, lest I don’t really get anything out of it. But I took an exception to Burning for a few reasons. One, a lot of people were talking about it and I wanted to talk about it. Two, it seemed like one of those foregone conclusions of definitely an award winning film. And three, Steven Yeun.
Yes, don’t let star power be a bad factor. Yeun was on The Walking Dead, I liked him on that show, and now I want to see him in a purely non American film. What’s the harm in that?
Burning is a metaphor for his feelings. Inside.
Lee Jong-su (Ah-In Yoo) is a young man, trying to just live his life. He works odd jobs mostly, and would like to be a writer, he is just having a hard time writing. His dad is in prison and could get out if he was nicer and apologized, but he is holding firm. So Jong-su has to watch over the farm, their one animal, and just make sure life doesn’t fall to pieces, while trying to get his own life back on track.
And then he meets Shin Hae-mi (Jong-seo Jeon). Well, re-meets technically. Apparently Hae-mi knew him when he was a child, but he mostly ignored her. They have a past that Jong-su just doesn’t remember a lot of, and if Hae-mi’s story is true, then it totally makes sense. He ignored her, he might have been mean, and she got some plastic surgery.
Needless to say, they hit it off! And she is about to go away and needs someone to feed her cat. Oh. Sure. Because she is attractive, likes him(?), and he has only the other major things going on in his life. When she gets back, they might start a relationship.
Except she comes back…with him. His name is Ben (Steven Yeun), he is rich, mysterious, totally cool. A “Great gatsby” character in South Korea. And she has fallen for him. But Ben has secrets, secrets that Jong-su is going to investigate, or else bad things might happen. Maybe even Burning things might happen.
I don’t know, they just kind of look like best friends here.
Burning is a (heh) slow burn of a film, coming in at about 2.5 hours. It is very slow moving, and its direction can seem to be all over the place. But if you focus the film on just Jong’su’s point of view and trying to understand the strange world around him, the mysteries and suspense add up.
It is a gorgeous movie with very notable camera work. It isn’t displaying the sexy parts of South Korea, but regular fields and cities, but it has extreme attention to detail and really draws the viewer into the movie.
The ending very much ends at a climax, a climax that people will feel like might never come. Because unfortunately, some mysteries remain mysteries by the films end. And that is likely to trouble some viewers, given what we saw from Lost backlash some time ago. No actual spoilers though here.
Ah-In Yoo is a great lead, while still keeping that passive unsure nature. Yeun was fine in this movie, but I don’t think it required a lot of hard work on his part. This is Jeon’s only movie, and she plays the free spirited and weird quite well, and hopefully gains an acting feature after this film.
Overall, Burning won’t be for everyone. You have to want subtitles and be okay with not everything spelled out for you. It will likely make waves from the foreign film market, and will still likely lose to Roma for Oscars.
3 out of 4.