Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. South Korea, 2018. Pine House Film, NHK, Now Films. Screenplay by Jungmi Oh, Chang-dong Lee, based on the short story Barn Burning by Haruki Murakami. Cinematography by Kyung-pyo Hong. Produced by Chang-dong Lee, Gwang-hee Ok. Music by Mowg. Production Design by Jum-hee Shin. Costume Design by Choong-yeon Lee. Film Editing by Da-won Kim, Hyun Kim. Cannes Film Festival 2018. Independent Spirit Awards 2018. Toronto International Film Festival 2018.
Jong-su (Ah-in Yoo) is a lonely, aspiring writer who must take over his family’s rural farm when his father has gotten into trouble with the law for a violent outburst, and not for the first time. While on a trip to the city, Jong-su runs into Hae-mi (Jong-seo Jun), a friend from his old neighbourhood who is working as a busker for a street vendor, and she insinuates herself into his life as a non-committal girlfriend, earning his devotion almost immediately. After taking care of her apartment and feeding her invisible cat while she goes away to Africa, he is distraught when she returns from her trip with a new man in tow, the handsome and wealthy Ben (Steven Yeun); Jong-su sticks around despite the fact that he doesn’t know for sure what she’s up to, if she’s moving on with someone else or purposely using Ben to stoke his jealousy. Seems like your usual mundane love triangle until Hae-mi goes missing, apparently abandoning both men and leaving absolutely no clues behind, and Jong-su’s searching for her takes this at first lax, low-burn film into something deep and dark, with many innocuous details adding up to something quite compelling. Lee Chang-Dong’s follow-up to his masterful Poetry eight years earlier isn’t quite as captivating as his previous work, this one has pockets of time that feel excessive and the running time isn’t fully justified, but give it a chance and let the various pieces fall into place as the ending is thoroughly satisfying. The performances are expertly captured by three fascinating actors who embody their types well, Yoo outstanding as the self-defeating bumpkin with a hangdog expression, Jun perpetually poised between sweetness and vengeance, and Yeun arrogant and dismissive without ever betraying a hint of tension. Moody images and mounting terror abounds in a tale based on a story by Haruki Murakami, in which amoral uncertainty of guilt provides some juicy choices worthy of Daphne du Maurier.