Korean Reviews Reviews

Film Review: The Girl on a Bulldozer (2021) by Park Ri-woong

A superlative indie about one girl, her quest for the truth and a bulldozer

The title “” is one that generates a fair bit of curiosity regarding the feature's content. Who is this girl and what is she doing on a bulldozer? The poster, which depicts a petite girl driving a massive bulldozer as loose soil clouds around it, hints at a possibly gritty, slightly action-y content. In his Busan Film Festival welcome message, director mentions that this is a revenge story, heightening expectations even further. Having seen the finished product now, I can safely say that this is one of the most wrongly marketed films this year. This is in no way a negative remark on the actual quality of the production, and to be completely fair, it does eventually deliver what it promises, but Park Ri-woong's debut is more than a standard gritty thriller.

“The Girl on a Bulldozer” is screening at

The titular girl is  Goo Hae-young, an angry, rowdy late-teenage girl who takes no nonsense from anyone. One arm tattooed out, she swears profusely and beats up people her age like nobody's business. There's little respect for authority and she's well known in her local police station for the wrong reasons, not even shying away from hitting a policeman on the head with a book. Life at home also isn't particularly great, with her chef father running his Chinese restaurant into massive debts thanks to his gambling habits. Her younger brother is the only ray of sunshine in her life and she plays defacto mother to him.

When his father gets in a mysterious road accident one day and is declared brain-dead by the doctors, Hae-young is not only left to be the head of her small family but also with the task of finding out exactly how the accident took place and deciphering the events leading up to it that somehow seem to relate to their Chinese restaurant and their residence within it. Police and insurance companies seem to be least interested in the truth, so matters (and bulldozers) must be taken into her own hands.

Go into “The Girl on a Bulldozer” expecting a gritty crime thriller and one is most likely to be disappointed. Yes, there are bulldozers, but the girl gets on one for a grand total of two times in the 113 minutes of its runtime. The grit as seen in the promotional poster is practically non-existent. Sure, the revenge as mentioned by the director in his welcome message is exacted, but it doesn't happen until the final few minutes. Despite all of that, this narrative works first and foremost as an excellent character study. It of course helps that the events around her are fairly engaging to keep the story progressing, but Hae-young is such a well-written character that it is fascinating to see her go on her own internal journey as much as it is to see her try and solve this mystery. There is a lot of angst with her, towards authority, family, society and life in general.

Slowly, as the layers of her story are peeled, this anger converts into pain, a pain that is coming from taking on so much and going against so many at such a young age with so much stacked against her. The feature's title too works in more than one ways. Besides the obvious, Hae-young is figuratively also going through life on a bulldozer, razing much in her wake. Her anger gets the better of her in most situations, affecting relationships. Her bullish ways and thoughtless actions often land her in irrevocable problems. Even her ultimate action, her revenge if you will, is a cry of desperation, born out of a helplessness to think up much else.

Such a complex character would've failed in less competent hands but in 's, it becomes  highly compelling. She may be only four films old and this is her first leading role and thus the meatiest, but Kim brings much maturity to her performance. Despite Hae-young's vulgarity spitting, tough exterior and fist fighting ways, Hye-yoon manages to play her very delicately, bringing this briefly evident naivety that flashes across her face now and then. This is further enchanting to watch when her anger changes, when she knows she may be way in over her head and when she finally lets it briefly break her. That particular moment is a tender one, shared with her young co-star. The adults around her are effectively cast, but it is ultimately Kim Hye-yoon's performance that looms large over the feature and the one that lingers back in minds.

The cinematography stays true to the production's indie roots and the sparsely used music has a few moments of impressiveness, but “The Girl on a Bulldozer” proves an effective debut from Park Ri-woong, thanks to a very well-written character and a compelling and constantly progressing story, all of which is anchored by a superb lead performance from Kim Hye-yoon. Both she and director Park are names to be on the lookout for.

About the author

Rhythm Zaveri

Hello, my name is Rhythm Zaveri. For as long as I can remember, I've been watching movies, but my introduction to Asian cinema was old rental VHS copies of Bruce Lee films and some Shaw Bros. martial arts extravaganzas. But my interest in the cinema of the region really deepened when I was at university and got access to a massive range of VHS and DVDs of classic Japanese and Chinese titles in the library, and there has been no turning back since.

An avid collector of physical media, I would say Korean cinema really is my first choice, but I'll watch anything that is south-east Asian. I started contributing to Asian Movie Pulse in 2018 to share my love for Asian cinema in the form of my writings.

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