Certainly, Jeon Do-yeon deserves all the kudos and praise she's received for this performance, but the (ubiquitous) Song Kang Ho is brilliant, continuing a long line of successes; he is as great an actor as is working today. This is an exceptional film about a topic most directors should avoid. But Chang-dong, sans melodrama or preaching, intelligently explores death and grieving, masterfully.
An unimaginable ordeal for a person to go through, this film does a really good job of displaying the pain, fear, and depression a tragedy can unleash. I found interesting the incorporation of Christianity and the role religion can have in the grief process.
Lee Chang-dong films are like existential mystery stories. I saw a screening of Burning & read the short story on which it is based - Barn Burning by Murakami. Lee’s stories unfold through subtle details and information without judgment and without irony. You can see how he adds layers to Murakami. Lee demands the commitment and judgment of the audience. Tales unfold quietly into explosive unpredictable endings.
Chang Dong is so gracious with his characters and themes—he never judges them. Instead of doing another cynical criticism of religion, he gives us a jarring yet compassionate film that focuses on the ordinary non-saint person in the face of tragedy being seduced by the healing power of faith without even contemplating its overwhelming implications. Truly unforgettable.