Burning ★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

This sobering character study of an awkward, perpetually underemployed young man whose semi-unrequited affection for a childhood friend is thwarted by a suave, possibly psychotic man-about-town is a beautiful piece of filmmaking, built like Lee's Poetry on a slow accumulation of detail, which in this case gradually carries it to Vertigo psychosexual-thriller territory without ever quite coming out and asserting its status as such, at least until the closing moments. There is much along the way that's hypnotic, but while the vagueness does what's intended -- and curiosities and reinterpretations continue in the days after one sees the film -- it also plays, to me at least, as a lack of conviction. I've always had issues with films that deceptively, excitedly court puzzle-solving while dismissing the very idea of same in an act of lyrical existentalism (see: Blowup), and while this is a more successful attempt than many, it still feels like a kitchen-sink approach: sort of a mystery for people who'd be embarrassed to admit they enjoyed a mystery. I sound like I'm putting Lee in a box here, so let me clarify: I think the film is extremely impressive, and I think the characterization of Jong-su captures introversion shatteringly well (the way that he feels comfortable talking and singing flamboyantly when on his own and completely bottles up everywhere else, etc.) until the deeply troubling moment he slut-shames Hae-mi, but this particular methodology makes the story feel to me personally like it's playing out from behind a very clinical haze, and it just doesn't ever fulfill the lively promise of its sense of pregnancy. And Hae-mi feels too cartoonish, Ben's central vice struggles too much to fit its strangeness into this textured but palpably mundane world, especially laid against so many details that feel honest and disturbing.

When I really think about it, I guess I had a lot of problems with the movie, but it's so absorbing I just can't rate it any lower than this.

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