Based on a Haruki Murakami short story, Burning consistently leaves us uncertain about how to process the information presented to us in a film that is populated by three characters hiding parts of themselves. Jongsu never does see a cat at Haemi’s tiny apartment, although its food is eaten each time he returns. Haemi tells a traumatic story about falling down a well as a child — which isn’t remembered by Jongsu, who later receives contradictory information about the incident.
Burning is filled with incidents that can be interpreted in different ways, and that lack of certainty starts to take its toll on Jongsu, whose attempts to win back Haemi seem to speak to something deeper, and more troubling, within himself that he can’t reconcile. It would be criminal to disclose precisely where Burning is headed, but this muted film unloads small surprises that end up having huge ripple effects, building to a finale that’s shocking without feeling manipulative or unearned.
Burning makes social status the elephant in every room, coloring the relationship among his three characters through a pronounced power imbalance. This conflict plays across three perfectly judged performances, including an arrogantly, chillingly relaxed turn from Yeun that should help any Walking Dead fans still bummed about Glen’s role in the series get over their melancholy right quick.