Burning is a quiet, contemplative film that creeps up on you, leaving in its wake images not soon forgotten.
Lee Chang-dong crafts a work that defies easy categorization, perhaps most easily thought of as a crime thriller that shifts into a subtle and sadistic relationship triangle. The girl (Jun Jong-seo), the nerdy friend enraptured with her (You Ah-in) and the far more charismatic yet boorish Ben (Steven Yeun) find their lives intertwined in ways that, through the generous running time, constantly shift like the grains that sway in the Korean fields.
This is a film that rewards patience, with the narrative leaps far less engaging than the tiny moments of character. From a wild dance in the outdoors to an invisible cat meant to be taken care of. There are wide shifts in focus for the storyline, but as the different elements drift past they all very much feel part of a singular vision.
Dreamlike, Burning illustrates Chang-dong’s gift for crafting a world that feels like one is floating through, a gentle if occasionally sadistic place where nothing is quite settled at any moment. It’s a film that may be a challenge, but for those willing to embrace both the pace and the dynamic of the storyline there’s plenty to reward with the film.