'Burning' Delivers Its Fire Slowly
Happily for me, many films don’t rely on multi-million dollar budgets, flashy computer graphics, rapid-fire edits, loud explosions, and heart-stopping car chases to forward superhero narratives. In alternative works, thought-provoking, carefully observed characters invite us into another person’s world – often an individual so normal as to be all but invisible in our own daily lives.
This is a lengthy but loving introduction to an amazing film: South Korean director, Lee Chang-dong’s, ‘Burning.’ Through exquisite cinematography and arresting art direction, the unexceptional life of Lee Jongsu unfolds at an unhurried pace over two and a half hours. Very little occurs in the conventionally dramatic sense, though volumes are suggested through the director’s delicate touch.
The plot is remarkably simple. Jongsu’s father is on trial for an outburst of anger that badly injured a neighbor, an event never seen but described in court. As a result, Jongsu must return to and care for the family farm. In the nearby city, he encounters a childhood classmate, Haemi. She leaves for Africa; Jongsu agrees to feed her cat, Boil; and Haemi returns with a wealthy friend, Ben. Jongsu, an aspiring author with a degree in creative writing, describes Ben thus: “He’s the Great Gatsby, those mysterious people, young and rich, who you don’t know what they really do. There are so many Gatsbys in Korea.” Though the trio's lives intersect and reverberate with suppressed emotion, questions hang over exactly what the truth about each of them is.
‘Burning’ is a film in which to lose oneself. As the plot unfolds, no nondiegetic sound ever intrudes, leaving the piece and its characters quiet, intriguing and perplexing. What is Jongsu thinking? Feeling? What about Haemi and Ben? As strange as this sounds, ‘Burning’ mirrors our own predicaments as we ourselves try to observe, question and understand the people in our lives using only incomplete information.
South Korea's Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film, 'Burning' is in Korean with English subtitles.
South Korea's nominee for a Best Foreign Film Oscar, ‘Burning’ is in Korean with English subtitles. It screens at Webster University’s Winifred Moore auditorium January 18, 20, 22, 25, 26, 27 & 29 at 7 pm. For more information, call 314-246-7525 or visit webster.edu/filmseries.