Starring Yoo Ah-In, Steven Yeun, Jun Jong-Seo
Directed by Lee Chang-Dong
Unemployed and penniless college grad Jong-Su (Yoo Ah-In) has a chance encounter with Hae-Mi (Jun Jong-Seo), a childhood friend he vaguely remembers. They have a casual hook-up, and a romance ensues, or so Jong-Su thinks.
Their budding relationship hits a snag when Hae-Mi flies off to Kenya for a vacay and returns home accompanied by Ben (Steven Yeun), a rich playboy she met (hooked up with?) on the trip, who seems to have everything but a soul.
When Hae-Mi vanishes without a trace, Jong-Su suspects Ben has something to do with it…
This masterfully crafted brain-splinter of a movie by Lee Chang-Dong (Poetry), adapted from Haruki Murakami’s short story Barn Burning, premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival where it won the international critics’ award.
The movie is hard to classify, bound to polarise. It begins as a moody study of lust and obsession and working-class struggles before slowly wandering into the realm of a dark psychological thriller. Whatever it is, it’s as perplexing as it is mesmerising (the shots of the Paju countryside, near the DMZ at Panmunjom, are dreamy).
Yeun, best known for his work on The Walking Dead, makes for a memorable leading man in his Korean feature debut. His portrayal of Ben is cool, chilling and calculating; behind that deceptively friendly smile is a guy who thrives on playing mind games for his own amusement.
Can everything he said to Jong-Su (and the audience, for that matter) be trusted? For folks who love closures in their mysteries, you’re going to hate Burning. (***1/2)
Photo: Clover Films