“Burning”: Lee Chang-Dong Searches for the Fiery Great Hunger of Existence

Burning refers to both physical and inner emotional fires. The Korean director Lee Chang-Dong delights in taking his movie, an adaptation of a Haruki Murakami story, right up to the edge of borders physical (the blare of a North Korean propaganda broadcast drifts over frequently); emotional– between friendship and betrayal, love and jealousy; and mysterious– that blur the lines between truth and lies, memories and delusions. It is an exploration of man’s craving for the Great Hunger of existence and meaning, the why of what life is all about.

Burning is forever creating visible invisibles. A mime eats a tangerine and explains the authenticity of the belief required to feel its almost reality. Another has the main character taking care of his desires’ cat which may be a Cheshire one or, just as easily, a really shy feline forever in hiding.

Chang-Dong allows the viewer to dive into whatever rabbit hole they feel comfortable with.

Burning‘s essential mystery is both stupefying and mesmerizing. Just when the films lags in its own indefinability, Chang-Dong inserts virtuoso long shots, one that defines the great dance that must occur before the craving for the Great Hunger and a finale that shocks Burning’s meaning with moral immoral clarity. I found myself loving and frustrated with Burning’s intractable inscrutability.

All photos courtesy of Palace Films.