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The first film in eight years by Korean master Lee Changdong (Secret Sunshine, Poetry) is a deft re-working of Murakami’s Haruki’s short story "Barn Burning." A psychological thriller wrapped in layers of mystery, it boasts an ending as haunting as an incandescent sunset descending into shadowy dusk. Deliveryman and aspiring writer Jongsoo (Yoo Ahin, Veteran, The Throne) runs into Haemi (voluptuous newcomer Jun Jongseo), who claims to be his childhood classmate. Seducing him, she scoots off to Africa, leaving him to feed her elusive cat. She returns with suave, well-heeled Ben (Steven Yeun, Okja, The Walking Dead), whose aura of privilege makes the farm boy roil with envy and self-pity. One day, Ben confides in a stoned haze that he has a secret fetish for burning down greenhouses. Soon after that, Haemi disappears, plunging Jong-soo into a frenzy.
The award-winning Burning scored highest ever on Screen’s annual critics’ poll at the Cannes festival earlier this year. Not only is the meticulously composed picture superb on a technical and artistic level, it also evokes a swirl of emotions with unforgettable intensity, capped by a compelling frisson engendered by the interplay between Yoo’s soul-baring angst and Yeun’s measured poise. While giving Korean social problems like class inequality, economic stagnation and bruised masculinity a stark universal relevance, Lee also probes the deeper existential hunger found in modern life.
FIPRESCI Prize, Cannes 18