A young man, leading a dead-end life reunites with a girl he used to know right before her trip to Africa, but when she comes back with a guy who has a dark hobby, everything changes.
The opening sequence’s protracted, tracking shot raised high expectations. Expectations that were met in all three acts. The cinematic realism is evident from beginning to the end in both the character and story development. Jong-su and Hae-mi will spit in the cup to put the cigarette out, their sex scene reflects on their levels of experience respectively, when Hae-mi and Ben arrive at the airport and how Lee is positioned (great subtle “show, don’t tell” example)… everything that Jong-su does and how his posture supports it, really. Try not to miss a thing! Everyone and everything is positioned or move within the frame exactly as it’s supposed to. Body language becomes imperative in understanding everyone’s intentions but also secrets. What I mean to say is that the mise-en-scène is immaculate. Especially, do not disregard Hae-mi’s pantomime in the setup. It is also the key to understanding that particular human element that will be Jong-su’s guiding force. It’s great to see Steven Yeun in a Korean film, by the way.
Burning is an example to follow from every possible aspect. Listen to the power of the diegetic sound and how it should not be undermined by its opposite. Specifically, it is a fine example of when not to cut. Each shot’s information remains fresh till the end, leaving no room for stale (the great Walter Murch’s useful definitions). Everything is catalytic to the narrative. Track how your perception between Lee and Ben perception will constantly be changing. Haruki Murakami’s and William Faulkner’s original short stories with the same name “Barn Burning” are given the justice they deserve by Chang-dong Lee in a, as co-screenwriter Oh Jung Mi put it, “a dance that seeks the meaning of life”.
False memories, deception, hidden agendas, obsession, dishonesty, naivety… are parts of us that we either hate to admit about ourselves or define us, and there is no way us knowing. And with the closing sequence’s protracted tracking shot, our chances to get the answers we want become slim to none. Not only that, but we’ll raise questions we wouldn’t think, at first, we would. Cinematic realism reflects on life’s realism, though. It is part of the exploration. And that we’ll have to accept it.
P.S. George, that one’s for you mate. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.