This year’s entry to the Best Foreign Language film at the 2019 Academy Awards from South Korea is Burning.
Burning is a slow, noir-style thriller, with a great soundtrack, a frustrating but well-suited lead performance and a story-line that, slowly, weaves its way to an explosive finale.
Ah-in Yoo (“Six Flying Dragons (TV)”, “The Throne”) as Lee, a loner and the most lackadaisical man you’ll likely ever meet, if he moved any slower he’d go backwards in time.
One day he appears to catch the eye of a pretty woman performing marketing outside a store. Hae-mi, Jong-seo Jun, used to live near Lee, but he doesn’t remember her.
They strike up a friendship that escalates to something more, but then Hae-mi decides to take off to Africa to “find herself” and, on her return, brings with her a new friend Ben, Steven Yeun (“Okja“, “The Walking Dead (TV)”).
Ben isn’t like Yoo and Lee, although a little older, he’s considerably wealthier. A strange, three-some, relationship emerges between the trio with Hae-mi at the centre of these two, very different men. The good-looking, wealthy, sure of himself Ben and the shy, retiring, introverted Lee who works on the family farm.
When Hae-mi stops returning Lee’s calls, and then her phone is switched off altogether, Lee goes on the hunt for her, consumed by this woman who once showed an interest in him. A desire that burns deep within, means he’ll do all he can to find out where she is.
There’s no getting away from the fact that Burning is slow, really slow. A nearly 2.5 hour run time does not help matters and, as beautifully-stark and industrial as some of the shots are, I could have done with less.
That said, Burning is a great thriller. Ah-in Yoo plays Lee with a frustrating air of relaxation and plodding through life that you just want to grab him by the collar and shake him till something happens. It can be frustrating, but it’s perfect for the movie.
Newcomer Jong-seo Jun plays the ever fascinated, almost hippy-like Hae-mi with an air of innocence and playfulness. She strikes you as a woman who doesn’t know what she wants, but is fine with that, willing to see what happens in life.
Burning will delight and frustrate in equal measure. It’s a stunning piece of film-making, very well shot, an excellent trio in lead roles and a story that keeps you guessing, though you will figure it out early enough for the frustration to raise its head again.
It’s best to go into the movie knowing little about it, let the slow noir gently wash over you and experience the film makers vision in all its glory. Some have said the movie is about how women are portrayed or valued in South Korea. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I do know that, whilst slow (have I mentioned it’s slow?), Burning is a film you’ll want to see.