Chang-dong Lee’s Burning could not have a more fitting title. A series of layered, subtlety crafted details and performances catch the glimpse of an open flame, and violently ignite. What follows is a lead of faint answers that provide a conclusion to a mystery. This mystery burns a trail through the centre of a world engaged with class-conflict and secret desires. As the psychological drama reveals a series of events from underneath its bursting surface, Burning is set on revealing that there is always more to what meets the eye, and that is where we should proceed with caution.
Burning proves that a simple premise can take off to become a more than alluring flight. Burning sees Lee (Yoo Ah-in) tangled up in a neo-noir concoction. Lee is competing for the affection of childhood acquaintance Hae-mi, (Jun Jong-seo) against the mysteriously hidden, Gatsby-esque Ben (Steven Yeun), as Lee also tries to uncover the hidden agenda and motives behind Ben’s iron walled façade and cool composure. But, Burning is much more than a love-triangle. It is an ambiguously riddled, haunting and story-centred narrative. Every detail serves a purpose, and unravelling them, amongst the mystery, ensures that the film becomes twice as engaging, yet nerving.
The most familiar position in Burning is that of Lee’s. Lee hails from a farm and does his best to get by. But, he appears to be in a rut with the direction of his life. However, Lee’s life appears to be transformed when he establishes a new connection with Hae-mi. But, their relationship only becomes another doubt in Lee’s life because of what is unearthed in Burning regarding its class relations, and the dark spells Burning masks on its characters and viewers. These dark spells serve as part of Burning’s perfectly startling design, that tells a story of the consuming nature of being caught up in mystery and answering the unknown.
The heart of Burning is undoubtedly a clash of interest, and a clash between its characters, that range from personality types, material objects and intentions. At times, Burning feels like waking up in a black room, and the only way to navigate an escape is to follow the subtle clues of light, hoping for a revelation and answers as to how you got there. With multiple webs inside the films core that play on the mind, it is important to look at how the story is told, as well as why.
Burning screens until Thu 14 Feb. To book tickets, click here.