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“I want to just vanish, like I never existed.” It’s a seemingly flippant, throwaway comment from Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo). Lee Chang-dong’s elegant thriller is seeded with such moments – images of impermanence, of inexplicable disappearance. You notice them more overtly on a second viewing, but even before this mesmerising mystery reveals itself, there’s a subliminal sense that nothing – or nobody – is as concrete as they seem.
Hae-mi is an acquaintance of Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) from school; after they reconnect by chance in Seoul, he is beguiled by this mercurial free spirit who draws him into her life. Hae-mi is as much an enigma to the audience as she is to Jong-su. It’s never entirely clear to what extent her actions are calculated or driven by impulsive whims.
But if Jong-su is already unsettled by Hae-mi, he is completely out of his depth when she introduces him to her urbane and wealthy playboy friend, Ben. Steven Yeun’s smiling snake performance in the role is one of the film’s more perturbing pleasures. Wrapped in immaculately tailored irony and privilege, Yeun makes everything that his character says, even as benign a phrase as “What fun!”, seem inherently untrustworthy. There’s something disquieting in his presence, as there is in the restrained ambiguity of the storytelling – we are encouraged to both construct our own conclusions and to dismantle them at the same time. It’s chilling and brilliant.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Burning review – mesmerising thriller of murky motives | Film