Burning (2018) Review

Time: 148 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence, sex scenes, nudity & drug use
Yoo Ah-in as Lee Jong-su
Steven Yeun as Ben
Jeon Jong-seo as Shin Hae-mi
Director: Lee Chang-dong

Jong-soo (Yoo Ah-in) runs into Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), a girl who once lived in his neighborhood, and she asks him to watch her cat while she’s out of town. When she returns, she introduces him to Ben (Steven Yeun), a man she met on the trip. Ben proceeds to tell Jong-soo about his hobby.

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Burning is a foreign movie I’ve been hearing about for quite some time, with it receiving acclaim from those who have seen it. The only name involved that I recognised was that of Steven Yeun as part of the cast, otherwise I was just going in knowing only the hype and love that it’s been receiving. Having seen it, I don’t love it as much as others do, but it is really good and well made and I can see why so many people have been praising it highly.

Burning is a long movie, at around 2 hours and 30 minutes long and it is a very slow-paced movie. For a while I just didn’t really know where the movie was going, and not necessarily in a good way. It’s really the second half where it picks up, after the point where Steven Yeon’s character tells the protagonist about his ‘hobby’. After that point it introduces this real mystery which I became interested in. When I think back to the whole movie, I can’t think of many scenes that I would cut from it (though it would probably be in the first half). I get the feeling that there were a lot of ideas in play, but because of how subtle it was, I feel like I missed a lot of it. When I say that, I’m not necessarily saying that it being subtle is bad, if anything it’s great that it was. The way the whole story was presented seemed very real and grounded, especially the dialogue which was well written. It never felt over dramatized or anything like that and doesn’t get melodramatic or over the top at any point. Really thinking back to it all, I get the feeling that I’d probably get more out of Burning by looking at it a second time, after knowing certain things that are revealed later in the film.

The acting was all around great, the movie mainly revolves around 3 actors: Yoo Ah-in, Jeon Jong-seo and Steven Yeun. Yoo Ah-in worked quite well as the protagonist who is trying to figure out a mystery, the film basically follows him for the entire runtime. Steven Yeun was however the standout of the whole film and was really great. He’s just so mysterious and commands such a presence incredibly well, he seems completely effortless and natural. It’s a very subtle performance, it’s not showy at all but every time he’s on screen, he grabs your attention without having to do anything really.

This is the first film by Lee Chang-dong that I’ve seen but it’s pretty clear with Burning here that he has done some great work. Burning is a very well put together film and like the story and writing, the direction is very subdued and subtle. It’s not flashy but it’s not laid back by any means, Lee Chang-dong is clearly a fantastic filmmaker even just based off this one film of his. The cinematography also was great, with so many beautiful looking shots, highlights being during sunset sections. There’s even some brief moments of suspense that are really effective without being too overblown or overt.

Burning is a very slow burn of a movie and it really only had my complete attention in the second half. With that said, it’s incredibly directed and the performances are great, especially from Steven Yeun. Honestly, I don’t have a bunch of problems with it and thinking about it again, it is a great film. I just really didn’t know what to make of it on my first viewing. I have a feeling it’ll work better for me on a second viewing. If you’re fine with sitting through a long and slow moving movie with subtitles, then Burning might be worth checking out for you.

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