Burning Review: Slow Burn, Psychological and a lot to interpret!

Burning (Korean) (2018)

This psychological thriller, that revolves around three characters and their dynamics, says a lot and yet leaves a lot unsaid.

Director – Lee Chang Dong

Based on – Barn Burning by Haruki Murakami

Cast – Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, Jeon Jong-seo


Lee Jong-su, an aspiring novelist meets Hae-mi, his childhood neighbour. They both have a humble lhand to mouth lifestyle. They hang out, get along well and have a brief fling before she has to leave for a trip to Africa.

When she’s back, she introduces him to Ben who she has met at the airport. The three often hang out together. The equations amongst the trio begin to change.

Lee Jong su doesn’t seem to trust Ben. Ben is dapper, suave, very rich, but more than that, he’s mysterious and a has a weird hobby.


This film is a slow burn in real sense. It has an extremely languid pace, lots of silences and lingering visuals that keep prodding you to think and decipher what the director is trying to convey. The fantastic background score is something that takes the atmospherics to a different level altogether. In fact at times, its intensity makes you wonder if there is more to the scene than you are being able to comprehend.

The first half is slow but makes a solid build up around the characters and gives you a very nuanced and deep peep into them. The second half then comes with twists and the characters begin to show their play. Looking closely we see various possible shades but so mild that you are never sure. There seems something simmering but you aren’t  sure what.. until you move more towards the climax, unless you have read about it in advance.

The most astonishing part is the underlying social commentary deeply embedded in the story and the focus on human behaviours through the well etched out characters. The superb performances of course need due credit for bringing alive these aspects. Notice the body language and the underplayed expressions.

We see a sharp contrast of rich and poor, contrast of personalities, jealousy, envy, and more. Dont want to leave spoilers here.

What makes this slow burn thriller unique is the ambiguity splashed all over. It seems the film maker wants to play it like a puzzle, throwing in scenes and facts that will leave you deciphering and analysing but never letting you be sure of your conclusion.In fact from what I have read, there could be more than one way of interpreting the climax.

This well acclaimed film is a must watch for those who relish Korean cinema or who love ambiguous psychological thrillers. Its unique story telling and performances will leave you impressed.But strictly for those who don’t mind their cinema slow.

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