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Ah-In Yoo, left, Steven Yeun, and Jong-seo Jun, centre, in Burning.

Pine House Film

  • Burning
  • Directed by: Lee Chang-dong
  • Written by: Lee Chang-dong and Oh Jungmi
  • Starring: Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun and Jun Jong-seo
  • Classification: N/A
  • 148 minutes

rating

“What kind of story are you writing?” It’s a question asked often of Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in), an introverted and impoverished would-be novelist, throughout the course of the new drama Burning. The film, the first from noted South Korean filmmaker Lee Chang-dong (Secret Sunshine, Poetry) in eight years, cares about as much for the query as Jong-su does, which is to say: hardly at all.

Ostensibly a thriller, Chang-dong’s quiet, philosophical and ultimately devastating adaptation of the Haruki Murakami short story flits from genre to genre, less interested in solving its central missing-person mystery than it is in exploring the distance we give ourselves in order to conceal our true origins and intentions. The driving narrative – focusing on Jong-su’s infatuation and then calamitous obsession for a childhood friend (Jun Jong-seo) – is a means to an end for Chang-dong, who uses the inherent tension that comes with such a plot to scratch various societal itches, notably class and privilege.

The director’s slow-burn (sorry) style may exhaust the endurance of some audiences, but nearly every minute matters. Chang-dong’s many masterful tableaux (one of which still haunts, months after first witnessing it) work overtime to keep the eye and mind alive, as does his inquisitive treatment of modern-day Korea. The same goes for the spit-fire performance of Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead), whose wealthy man of mystery enters Jong-su’s life at exactly the wrong, or perhaps right, moment.

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Burning opens Nov. 2 in Toronto.

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