Burning (2018) – A metaphorical take on social inequality and loneliness

When I started watching the acclaimed South Korean thriller “Burning”, I was expecting a movie on the lines of other suspenseful dramas from the country. Normally, South Korean Cinema offers a straight narrative with a probable twisted ending. But I was treated to a film which may underwhelm you for most parts, but once it ends, will make you ponder real hard on the tons of scenes and dialogues. A rare film which has a strong metaphorical undertone.

The story of Burning is less complex on paper. Jong-su bumps into Hae-mi, a girl who used to live in the same neighborhood as him, who asks him to look after her cat while on a trip to Africa. When back, she introduces Ben, a mysterious guy she met there, who confesses his secret hobby, which involves burning down “greenhouses”. Things get out of hand when all of a sudden, Jong-su is unable to reach Hae-mi via phone and finds her missing from the city. Jong-su has his obvious suspicions that Ben has something to do with her disappearance. The final hour is about how Jong-su confronts Ben over the disappearance of Hae-mi.

Burning is all about metaphorical undertones. Hae-mi is an example of multiple individuals who are lonely, lack friend and family. People like Hae-mi try to build an imaginary world by giving birth to the made-up stories. Jong-su is a perfect take on an individual who is unemployed, and dreams about landing a job and/or ab apartment at a tall tower. Ben is that guy who is rich and loves to showcase young, lonely girls frequently to his friends as a source of entertainment on social gatherings. These individuals make up the bulk of youngsters nowadays, who are tackling either loneliness, superiority or inferiority complex.

“Burning” is filled with metaphors, which will make it memorable for the viewers

In Burning, it’s the metaphor which should catch the eye of the viewer and probably not the story. The story is underwhelming and takes time to build up. But the characterization is top-notch and director Chang-dong Lee deserve full credit for that. Without delving into spoilers (which I would be happy to discuss in the comment section), almost every scene and dialogue is cryptic and probably has a hidden meaning.

Performance wise, all the three lead actors are top notch! The visuals are stunning to say the least, with an able background score supporting some ambiguous moments in the film. Director Lee Chang-dong does show some signs of self-indulgence, but has full command of the film. Viewers may find the plot complex, but as I said, its less of the plot and more of the metaphors. Watch closely!

Though the movie won several accolades and was a critic-favourite, the audience has given it a mixed response (as evident on IMDB). If you see the movie as a simple thriller having a weird end, you will surely be disappointed. Chances are that this film will make you retrospect and think about all those dialogues and scenes after you are done watching it. 

Definitely not the best South Korean cinema has to offer, but surely one to remember for long. 

Rating: 4/5 (Worth a Watch!)

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