The Girl on a Bulldozer (2022)

Rating: B-

Dir: Park Yi-woong
Star:  Kim Hye-yoon, Park Hyuk-kwon, Oh Man-seok, Park Si-woo

It’s clear from the start that Goo Hye-young (Kim) is a bit of a bad-ass. We first see her in court, getting sentenced to community service for her role in a convenience store fight, then going after the girls responsible, for turning her in to the cops. She’s a rather aimless individual, drifting through her late teenage years without any particular goal, and a sizeable chip on her shoulder. She kinda sorta helps in the restaurant run by her father, Bon-jin (Park H-k), hangs out with her kid brother Hye-jeok (Park S-w), and has a low tolerance for… well, just about everybody. But her life changes drastically, after her father is involved in a car accident, in which two pedestrians are injured, leaving him in critical condition.

This brings the blunt object which is Hye-young into conflict with hospitals, insurance companies, and police. For it turns out the car in question wasn’t even her father’s, but had been stolen from their landlord, who was also his former employer. It’s not long before he’s telling her the restaurant’s lease is being terminated. The building will be demolished to make way for a golf driving range, effectively throwing her and Hye-jeok out on the street. What caused her father to act the way he did? The more she digs into things – not taking the platitudes of authority – the murkier things get. Especially after she finds her father’s phone, on which is a recording of a meeting with the landlord.

“Maybe that title’s going to mean more than 60 seconds of her community service, after all,” was my thought at that point in the film. Because if you’re expecting bulldozer-fu, you are largely going to be disappointed. Really, this feels as if it has more in common with Parasite, with its depiction of the gap in South Korea between the haves and the have-nots, in particular the ruthless way in which the former exploit the latter. However, it’s mostly because the downtrodden take it. Somebody like Hye-young is made of more resilient stuff. Indeed, she’s arguably not unlike a bulldozer herself, ploughing her way over society’s conventions, on the way to her intended goal. You certainly root for her persistence in defense of her family.

Those parts work very well, though I sense that some elements make more sense to a local audience, than shorn of cultural context to an overseas viewer. I also couldn’t help but be a little disappointed by the finish, which – bulldozer or not – doesn’t have the impact necessary to deliver a satisfactory full-stop. In particular, there’s a coda which feels almost tacked on in response to test screenings, such is the sharp discrepancy between it and the cynical tone to that point. It doesn’t entirely undo the good work which has got it to this point, which made me forgive the deficiencies on the heavy construction machinery front. However, it does reduce this from a hidden gem to being merely underappreciated.