Burning ★★★★½

Sorry for the word vomit but I have a lot of thoughts I want to get down.

Jong-su is awkward as hell. He's uncomfortable in his own skin and you realize it immediately. Stumbling through the streets, almost never standing up straight, short mumbly responses. But there's a lot going on under the surface, as seen/heard when he opens up to Ben while they smoke weed. After both of them watch Hae-mi dance her heart out, they have two very different reactions. Jong-su professes his love for her and speaks personally and emotionally for the first and only time in the movie. And then Ben responds by laughing (one of the many times he is condescending to the lower class) and tells Jong-su he likes to burn down greenhouses. Every two months, the somewhat self-proclaimed God finds a frail, flammable exterior that contains, or once contained, life in it's purest form and simply destroys it. To Ben, Hae-mi is like an abandoned greenhouse: a lonely and quiet thing that no one, except unfortunately for him, Jong-su, will miss. He and his snobby friends see Hae-mi and his other girlfriend's as jokes, so much so that at a certain point, I was convinced they were killing these girls in a cultish fashion. But this, as well as all the other "clues," were what the audience and Jong-su were formulating in their heads. A lonely, over-active mind is a dangerous one, especially in the jealous and legitimately worrisome situation that this is.

Most of this story is about memories, how we perceive / remember certain memories and how a lonely mind can (allegedly) warp those memories. What really exists? "Don't imagine that the orange is there, but forget that it's not there." Was the cat real? Was there a well? Jong-su meets Hae-mi as an adult outside her place of work (dancing as an attractive advertisement for a raffle). She reminds him they've met before but throughout the film, he refuses to give her the satisfaction of remembering her, despite him being in love with her. He masturbates in her room every time he's there. Like remembering the memory of having sex with her but every time, he seems to be focused on the Seoul tower or it's light reflection. Even in his most intimate moments, he's afraid to get close to her.

He was raised in an emotionally unstable family and doesn't know how to communicate with women. She recalls him calling her ugly as a kid and then gets plastic surgery. She watches his face intently as they have sex for the first time. Even when she comes back to Korea with Ben, it seems like she's showing off her new rich boyfriend as a commodity to the person she actually cares about. There is always a sense of longing and loneliness to Hae-mi but both are too scared to say how they feel until it's too late.

We never gets a clear answer to what happened to Hae-mi, although if I had to give one, I would say Ben kills these women. That's really only because of the inclusion of the watch and maybe the cat. I would argue that this would have been a better film without either of those discoveries in the end. That final scene would have been that much more frustrating and shocking because we truly wouldn't have known what to believe. But the watch and the cat are such strong pieces of evidence that they're hard to ignore, even though cats respond to any name. Also Boil? Come on...

I think if I had just read this, the ending would have really pissed me off, but that's what makes the visual so important. I loved the script but the direction was amazing. The performances were fantastic (Jeon Jong-seo "Hae-mi" had never acted before and didn't audition). The cinematographer ("The Wailing," "Snowpiercer," "Mother") captured some of the most beautiful visuals I've ever seen. The countryside sequences especially reminded me of the peace you got from "Call Me By Your Name" and feeling like you were in the picture. Chang-Dong Lee created a beautiful and subtle slow burn (sorry) that never fizzles out until the credits roll. It's 2.5 hours and I'm very interested in seeing this a second time.

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