Burning ★★★½

This one's tough. I considered every rating from 2.5 to 5. It's hard not to get caught up in Lee Chang-dong's haunting slow burn craft, which sucked me in from the opening meet-cute all the way to its shocking conclusion. Burning presents a battle for the soul of South Korea waged between the Gatsby-like hedonist Ben and the meek farmer's son Jongsu. The thing is, I'm not sure either vision of masculinity is particularly desirable. Jongsu is clearly Lee's champion, but he's kind of a creep and displays some unpleasantly possessive attitudes toward Haemi. Ben's ostentation and unrepentant self-interest is obviously repellant, but, as played by Steven Yeun, becomes strangely seductive. Who knew Glenn from The Walking Dead could play a sociopath so well? I do wish I knew more about South Korea to fully appreciate the film's smaller details. The best scene in the film--a beguiling "Hunger" dance performed by a stoned, half-naked Haemi as the sun is setting on Jongsu's family farm near the North Korean border--would be enriched by a better understanding of the current-day Korean sociopolitical context.

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