Burning ★★★★

Was not at all prepared for the shift into Antonioni-esque thriller territory in the second half of this. The scene where Hae-mi and Ben visit Jongsu's farm is likely the scene of the year so far, not only for how it tightens the psychological tensions between the two men and complicates our understanding of all three character's troubled psychological states but for how it recalibrates the film's focus (after Hae-mi's African dance) to something far grander and more elusive than it seemed to be heading toward. Lee's emphasis on what is and is not there (Haemi's pantomiming, her cat and the well she speaks of in her story) builds to a head upon the mysterious disappearance of a character and while that disappearance lends the film a suspense amplified by its genre leanings, Burning morphs into something more abstract, concerned less about the concrete solution of a mystery than the broader existential mysteries of life. The "big hunger" (the hunger for meaning and purpose) which Hae-mi discusses after returning from Africa becomes the subject of the film, yet Lee deftly keeps the film very much grounded in contemporary South Korea by exploring the psychological ramifications of income inequality along with brief nods to North Korea (whose propaganda messages can be heard from Jongsu's house) and Trump (who is shown giving a speech about American exceptionalism while Jongsu pisses in the background), adding a textured representation of the real world consequences of global capitalism to a film that slides further and further into the murkier realm of subjectivity.

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