South Korean film, Burning, demands a lot of patience from its viewers.

Based on Haruki Murakami’s short story Barn Burning, the film begins with Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in), a university graduate who is about to begin his career as a writer.

He bumps into his ex-schoolmate Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo) one day and the two begin to bond. He begins to develop feelings for her. When Hae-mi leaves for Africa on a self-discovery journey, she asks him to help her feed her cat while she’s away.

Jong-su shuttles between Hae-mi’s apartment in the city to look after her cat and his hometown outside of Seoul to take care of his family’s farm, as his father is being tried in court for violent behaviour.

When Hae-mi returns from her holiday, she introduces Jong-su to Ben (Steven Yeun of The Walking Dead fame), a rich, successful South Korean man she met during her travels.

The synopsis sounds mundane, and for the most part, Burning does come across like one of those slice of life types.

The film moves at a slow, meandering pace (spanning two and half hours long), and its characters engage in dialogues that seem random and irreverent at times.

It’s easy to lose interest especially in the first half of the movie when there is no clear direction of where the film is going. Viewers keep waiting for something to happen and for a long time, nothing happens.

But something shifts in the second half, and if viewers can hold on long enough, they’ll find a mysterious turn of events drawing them in.

Another reason I kept watching was the superb acting performances given by all three leads. Jeon’s portrayal of the emotionally volatile, free-spirited Hae-mi is particularly memorable, as is Yoo’s turn as the dishevelled, lovelorn writer.

The film is getting a lot of love from the festival circuit – it was in the running for the prestigious Palme d’Or this year, the highest prize at the Cannes Film Festival – and will appeal to arthouse movie lovers and Murakami fans.

Burning is the sort of film that feels puzzling when you’re watching it but enlightenment comes after you walk out of the cinema and have had some time to digest the clues and implicit messages hidden within.


Burning
Director: Lee Chang-dong
Cast: Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, Jeon Jong-seo, Kim Soo-kyung, Choi Seung-ho, Ban Hye-ra, Lee Bong-ryun
GSC International Screens