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Ciné Sunday: Burning

Lee Chang-dong

Shortlisted for this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Burning has been generating well-deserved buzz since it premiered at Cannes and won the prestigious FIPRESCI prize. Directed by Lee Chang-dong (Poetry) and based on a short story by Haruki Murakami, it is an absorbing puzzle, centred around a love triangle where all participants are enigmatic, hiding information from us and each other.

"A delicate but fierce portrait of jealousy and obsession..."

Jong-su (the remarkable Ah-in Yoo) is a taciturn twenty-something delivery man whose world is irrevocably changed when he runs into the beautiful Haemi (Jong-seo Yun), a girl he knew in childhood. He quickly falls for Haemi’s shy charm and they embark on an intense relationship. Their romance has barely begun when she asks for a favour: she’s leaving on a trip to Africa, and would Jong-su be willing to look after her cat? The young man gladly obliges, and pines her absence. But when Haemi finally returns, she is accompanied by a handsome, wealthy new ‘friend’ called Ben (The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun). Fascinated but wary of Ben, Jong-su finds himself becoming increasingly paranoid about the charismatic stranger’s motives towards he girl he loves. When Haemi vanishes, her phone disconnected, her messy apartment cleaned up, her cat nowhere to be seen, Jong-su becomes obsessed with finding out what has happened.

With a deliberately slow pace and a hypnotic soundtrack by Mowg, Lee carefully and cleverly reveals surprises that end up having huge ripple effects, building to a finale that’s shocking without feeling manipulative. Burning is a delicate but fierce portrait of jealousy and obsession which will stay with you long after it has ended, and is undoubtedly one of the best films of the year so far.