Even though you sense a brilliance as the film ends, you can’t help but feel the weariness
The title of the Korean-language film, Burning (Beoning), has a significance that you only realise when the film warrants you to. Before the real meaning of ‘burning’ comes out, you get to envisage fire as it is perhaps the first thing that would come to your mind when you think of ‘burning’. Director Lee Chang-dong sets two different contexts. Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in), in one of the scenes, reminisces about an agonising incident from his childhood where his father coerced him into burning down the clothes of his mother. In another lengthy sequence, Ben (Steven Yeun wears a smile throughout for this character to suggest a strange, evil person inside him that works so well) reveals his plan of setting fire to one of the greenhouses near Lee Jong-su’s home. This makes Lee Jong-su search for all the greenhouses he could find near his home before hearing a mysterious revelation from Ben that he already torched one thereby leaving Lee Jong-su perplexed. Finally, treading this slow-paced mystery, you reach a point when Lee Jong-su, whose girlfriend, Hae-mi (immersive performance lent by Jeon Jong-seo), has gone missing, is burning with anger and ends up killing the suspect and setting the car on fire with the dead suspect lying inside it.
Burning, based on a short story by Haruki Murakami, is thought-provoking and mysterious. Hae-mi’s character is closed-book. Her act of pantomime while having dinner with Lee Jong-su is enigmatic. When Lee Jong-su visits her home, she calls her cat but there is no cat to be seen which leaves him thinking that she is calling an imaginary cat. There are moments when she is emphasising upon the search for the meaning of life. There is ambiguity about Ben too as to what his relationship with Hae-mi is all about. Lee Jong-su keeps receiving a phone call but the person on the other end keeps mum. A sort of mystification always surrounds the lead characters of the film. But the film feels humdrum at different stages. The snail-paced storytelling doesn’t help either. Even though you sense a brilliance as the film ends, you can’t help but feel the weariness.