Deliveryman Jongsu is out on a job when he runs into Haemi, a girl who once lived in his neighborhood. She asks if he'd mind looking after her cat while she's away on a trip to Africa. On her return she introduces to Jongsu an enigmatic young man named Ben, who she met during her trip. And one day Ben tells Jongsu about his most unusual hobby...
ActorsStarring: Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, Jun Jong-seo, Kim Soo-kyung, Choi Seung-ho, Moon Sung-keun, Min Bok-gi, Lee Soo-jeong, Ban Hye-ra, Cha Mi-Kyung, Lee Bong-ryeon, Jang Won-hyeong, Jeon Seok-chan, Lee Joong-ok, Ok Ja-Yeon
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An ambiguous, meandering and layered mystery may be an appropriate way to start to try to describe what kind of movie Burning is.
One day as Jong-su (Ah-in Yoo) is delivering a package, he runs into Hae-mi (Jong-seo Yun), a girl who tells him they grew up together. He doesn’t recognise her but she explains she has had plastic surgery. They meet up for drinks later and Jong-su is quietly enamoured by Hae-mi’s alluring personality as she shows him she is learning to mime as she wants to become an actress. She shows him how she’s eating a non-existent tangerine as she explains that the art is not to pretend that there is a tangerine, but to forget that there isn’t one. Hae-mi tells him she is going to visit Africa for a little while and asks him to look after her cat while she is away. Jong-su agrees and is rewarded with rather perfunctory sex, but it is enough to ensnare him.
While Hae-mi is on her trip, Jong-su commutes between his parents’ farm in the country where he lives, and Hae-mi’s tiny apartment in Seoul to feed the cat, which he never actually sees. He dreams of Hae-mi and is keen to see her again. When he picks her up from the airport she introduces Jong-su to Ben (Steven Yeun), whom she apparently has met on her trip in Kenya. While Jong-su is quiet, struggles to communicate, and comes from a poor background in the country, Ben is a rich, suave playboy who drives his Porsche to his house in Seoul’s wealthy Gangnam area. He doesn’t explain what he does for a living, as that would be too hard for Jong-su to understand. He leaves it at explaining that he plays, whatever that may mean. This marks the beginning of a destructive tale of rivalry, class division, attraction, and mistrust.
This is a confidently directed, but very slow movie which will undoubtedly frustrate some audience members. In the first hour of this two and a half hour film, seemingly not a lot happens. Later it becomes clear that the first hour does in fact establish the reality or rather the ambiguity of the characters and the world they live in. It is actually mostly not clear what exactly reality is; almost everything in the story cannot be confirmed by the audience nor by the characters. As the story unfolds, we begin to suspect or even presume to understand things but in doing so, are we pretending to see the tangerine or are we forgetting that there isn’t one?
The seemingly fairly straightforward storyline of a love triangle and related anger further fueled by class division alone would make this movie torturously slow and long. Except that this is where the aforementioned ambiguity comes in; we effectively don’t really know much of anything about anyone. What makes this intriguing is that this is not because of simple omission; the movie provides all kinds of details, many of which can make you wonder whether these are revelatory or merely purposefully misleading detours. The slow pace of the movie creates the space for your mind to mull over these ambiguities as you try to connect dots that may or may not be relevant, true, or even real.
A movie that leaves you with more questions than it answers even long after you finished watching it, it may either quietly intrigue or assuredly irk you.