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 Kim Hye-yoon’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.
Review by Rhythm Zaveri