Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Movie with Abe: Burning

Directed by Chang-dong Lee
Released November 9, 2018

Romance is not a standard thing. The way that it begins, evolves, and looks throughout the process is different based on the people involved. The notion of a “honeymoon period” describes early courtship and bliss that, later on in a relationship, might fade considerably when one or both people involved no longer believe they need to put forth the same effort. The trajectory is hardly set for any kind of romance, and there are unexpected intrusions and developments that might affect its course greatly, introducing new elements and thoughts that complicate what should be simple.

Jong-su (Ah-in Yoo), recently moved into the house vacated by his imprisoned father and long-absent mother, runs into his old classmate Hae-mi (Jong-seo Jun), who tells him that she is taking a trip to Africa and needs him to watch her cat while she is gone. When she returns and asks him to pick her up from the airport, he readily agrees, not aware that he is also picking up a wealthy man named Ben (Steven Yeun) who she has just met. Each time he tries to see Hae-mi, Ben is there, eliciting feelings both of jealousy and of fascination with this mystery man, who tells Jong-su that he secretly enjoys burning down abandoned greenhouses.

Jong-su is a writer and spends most of his time alone, tending to his family’s farm and sitting in a near-empty courtroom where his father faces his latest arraignment. The temper that has gotten his father into so much trouble is present in no form in his son, and Jong-su’s passiveness slowly begins to be replaced by a new kind of demeanor as Ben appears more and more when he meets the woman he loves, who seems entirely unaware that bringing two men on the same date is at best confusing and at worst manipulative and cruel. Ben’s relaxed attitude and luxurious possessions make him even more of an enigma, so effortlessly charming in a way that Jong-su could never be.

Yoo is an established actor in South Korea who delivers an appropriately subdued lead performance here, opposite an impressive and energizing debut from Jun. Korean-American actor Yeun, known for his work on “The Walking Dead,” has been winning deserved accolades for his disarming portrayal of Ben, who provides much of the film’s intrigue through the uncertain motivations of his suddenly omnipresent character. South Korea’s official Oscar submission for Best Foreign Film is a strong film that remains immersive and interesting for the whole of its two hour and twenty-eight-minute runtime, intent on telling a story committed to following its characters wherever their unexpected interactions and actions might take them.


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