Film review: Burning (Director: Lee Chang-dong)
By Sascha Krieger
If nothing else remains from the almost two and a half hours of this film remains, some small, easy-to-miss images will: the flicker of light on the wall, the only fleeting moment of sunlight in the tiny one room apartment, the protagonist focuses on during the sex with a childhood acquaintance; the closeness, breathing distance, of the young man crouching behind a car, to the object of his observation, watched across the distance that separates their lives; the very ending, a panicked confused face on a naked body driving through the pale semi-darkness, observed through a dirty windscreen. Lee Jongsu is an observer. An observer of life. An aspiring writer who we only see writing in the film’s last few minutes, a man working odd jobs who we only see doing so in the opening, a city dweller hiding away at his father’s defunct farm where the only remnant of farm life is a sole calf that gets picked up at some point. Lee, a university graduate, is waiting for a life that is not likely to come. Early on, director Lee Chang-dong inserts news snippets reporting on the scourge of youth unemployment in South Korea. His protagonist is a member as well as a symbol of a lost generation, a by-product of Korea’s fiercely competitive turbo capitalism, but also a universal lost young man, played by Yoo Ah-in with an open-mouthed emptiness that half conceals a longing slowly dying as all objects it can hang on to slip away or are revealed as meaningless right away.