Burning ★★★★½

The concept of life can be mildly disturbing at times. You wade through mundanity, tribulations, and fluctuations in cognizance and emotions, sometimes in the same day. You're trapped in one physical vessel and damned to the knowledge of one mind. Lee Jong-su, the main character of Lee Chang-dong's 'Burning,' is burdened not by what he knows but by what he doesn't know.

And in that central conceit, Chang-dong fashions a philosophical thriller caught between class struggle and masculine anxiety. Jong-su is a shy loner with a troubled family history. Shin Hae-mi is the object of his affection and an enigma herself. Ben is the wild card, the new beau she brings back from a trip to Africa, affluent, privileged, and just a little menacing. When this trio is reduced to just the two men, the battle of wills is unexpected and frightening in its implications.

Inevitability is the best weapon in writing. Make every plot point feel predestined because of your characters, and the audience will trust you to the end. Chang-dong expands from a Haruki Murakami short story, turning potential cyphers into flesh and blood people you would meet on the street. Their histories and mysteries are their own, but bring them together, and their true natures feel like destiny.

'Burning' is the best type of frustrating storytelling. It resonates not because of what happens, but because of what is unseen. In that way, it hurts like life itself.