A freelance writer and traveller who likes to explore the spiritual, literary and hidden gems of Adelaide and beyond.
Published April 23rd 2019
Unconventional psychological thriller
Burning is based on the short story Barn Burning by famed magical realism author Haruki Murakami. The film explores a disturbing and sinister love triangle set in South Korea. Due to the imaginative nature of most of Murakami's work, there have been few successful film adaptations, until this one. This unsettling psychological thriller received deserved widespread acclaim at the Cannes film festival in 2018.
Jong-su (Ah-in Yoo) has a chance meeting with Hae-mi (Jong-seo Jun), a young female who is working as a store spruiker outside a large department store. They had connected long ago, living in the same neighbourhood, which is right on the border with North Korea. Jong-su plays the typical Murakami title character of a young misunderstood loner. Hae-mi is seen to have an impulsive, disinhibited and chaotic life. Hae-mi arranges Jong-su to look after her cat (who remains comically out of sight), while she travels. On return, she has a mysterious new partner named Ben (Steven Yeun). Ben is seen as stylish, rich and evasive.
The camera track shots follow Jong-su's eye throughout. We are seeing his view of the world, from his views out the windscreen, across the landscape or while he is making love with Hae-mi. The viewer is slowly introduced to his world of frustrations and growing desperation as all is not as it seems when Hae-mi goes missing.
Director Chang-dong Lee has created a study in tension and unease. Themes explored include materialism and consumer culture, overbearing totalitarianism, spirituality and isolation. This unconventional film is full of flawed, sad and troubled people, perhaps there is just too much darkness and not enough hope in this edgy thriller. Burning is no glossy superficial ride, it takes a toll and will haunt the viewer long after leaving the cinema. Highly recommended.