This year’s twentieth New York Asian Film Festival saw quite a few things happening, including for a few of its special guests this year – one of them them being actress Kim Hye-yoon, who has been on television for years leading up to her 2017 theatrical debut, Won Shin-yeon’s Memoir Of A Murderer. Her latest role in Park Ri-woong’s new drama, The Girl On A Bulldozer, has since earned her the Screen International Rising Star Asia Award for its premiere this summer at NYAFF following its world premiere at Busan last year, and its theatrical release in South Korea this past July.
Directed from a script also by Park, the film introduces audiendes to Gu Hye-yoon (Kim Hye-yoon), a tough-as-nails 19 year-old who bares a distinguishable dragon tattoo on her arm, which she covers with a sleeve. She also lives with her much younger brother, Hye-jeok (Park Si-woo) and father and restauranteur, Bon-jin (Park Hyuk-kwon) who has more than his fair share of financial troubles that he’s not as willing to discuss with Hye-joon, despite claiming they have money, and this compels her to believe he hasn’t exaclty rescinded his gambling addiction.
These issues are just a tip of the iceberg for Hye-yoon, however. The first time we meet her, it’s in the moments after a violent incident where coming to someone’s defense still has her committed by the court to attend ten hours of anti-violence courses, as well as forty hours of vocational training, which also forces to quit another job she has when her employer refuses to oblige. To make matters worse, though, Hye-yoon gets a call summoning her to the hospital when Bon-jin is recovered from a severe car accident in which he reportedly injured two other people after allegedly stealing a car from his former boss.
Hye-yoon is suddenly hit with an onslaught of responsibilities and is faced with the likelihood of her own father’s brain death, forcing her to take on her own inquiry into the accident when the preliminary answers she’s getting don’t add up. Soon enough, strangers start moseying along in the restaurant, the family of the two supposedly injured people are recalcitrant to respond to any of Hye-joon’s questions, and every question leads to more half-baked answers and red tape. Confronted by her father’s frustrated employees, corporate vultures looking to capitalize off of what Bon-jin worked hard to build and secure for his family and the unyielding call of duty to take further care of a troubled Hye-jeok, the only cards left to play at this point is a mysterious visit from uncle at the restaurant the day after her father’s hospital admittance, and clues left in her father’s phone.
Going forward, the one real question worth asking in The Girl On A Bulldozer is if any of these clues will be enough to bring the schemers and snakes taking advantage of her father to justice. The best way to answer this question is to see what happens in the film’s opening scene, as it should give you an inkling of idea about how this story will play out. It’s pretty frustrating in that regard, which makes Hye-yoon’s character development all the more interesting. She’s smart and takes no guff from anyone, but her strategy when it comes to investigating the matters pertaining to the accident is rather uninformed, and as a result, she acts impetuously, and it tends to get her in more trouble than she needs.
All the same, however, this is just who she is. She calls out bullshit. She’ll go as far as to take a pair of shears or a jug of petrol with a lighter in hand to immolate said bullshit, and whatever the consequences are, she’s here for it. With that in mind, these kinds of things do raise the stakes a bit when considering the Hye-jeok’s fate. With the odds against Hye-joon, you can’t help but root for her no matter what, especially when any legitimate, by-the-book effort toward accountability is hampered by anything from the law, to the whims of the rich, greedy and politically malfeasant.
Alas, it’s enough to help keep you waiting until the last fifteen minutes for the film to finally take its eponymous shape, the last big play in an ending that finally puts most of the pieces together. Not everyone gets their just dues in The Girl On A Bulldozer, but Park’s latest urban dramatic thriller bodes as a driven, emotionally compelling story of compassion, with at least some cartharsis.
The Girl On A Bulldozer was screened and reviewed for this year’s New York Asian Film Festival.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.