The Girl on a Bulldozer (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): Who can stop her?

South Korean film “The Girl on a Bulldozer” is about one feisty girl who cannot be possibly stopped at all. While she is not a very nice person at all, we cannot help but admire her will and determination as she goes all the way for what should be done for her and her family, and we eventually come to root for her more than expected.

At the beginning, the movie succinctly establishes what a problematic girl Hae-yeong (Kim Hye-yoon) is. Due to some violent incident into which she got involved some time ago, she has just received a minor sentence from a judge handling her case, but it is apparent that she does not give a damn about this at all. As a matter of fact, she subsequently goes to several girls responsible for that latest trouble of hers, and she surely shows them that she is not the one they can mess with.

We see how things have been bad for Hae-yeong’s family. Her father has run a small Chinese restaurant for several years since he left some big local construction company, but his business has been recently struggling for many reasons including his growing debt, and Hae-yeong has no particular interest in helping her father as getting tired of him day by day. Because her mother died some years ago, Hae-yeong is the only one who takes care of her little younger brother, and we can clearly sense that he is probably the only person she really cares about.

And then something quite unexpected happens. On one day, Hae-yeong’s father goes out early in the morning for no apparent reason, and then he is gone missing. Not long after that, a detective comes to Hae-yeong to notify that they are looking for her father for committing an act of violence on someone, and then a couple of strangers suddenly come into the restaurant and tell Hae-yeong that the place does not belong to her father anymore.

While not knowing at all what is really happening, Hae-yeong tries to protect the restaurant as much as she can, but then there comes another shock to her. Her father is finally found, but there was a rather inexplicable car accident, and he has been unconscious because of that. She was told that he was driving someone’s car while quite inebriated at that time, and the situation becomes more complicated because the car inadvertently hit somebody on the road. Not long after notified of this incident by that detective, she is approached by a guy from an insurance company, and he advises that she should make a settlement with that victim’s family as soon as possible for avoiding more troubles and headaches.

However, Hae-yeong does not feel that right about doing that because there is something fishy about her father’s accident. Not long before his accident, he called a certain powerful business figure who is incidentally the owner of that big local construction company, and Hae-yeong becomes convinced that this figure is involved with the incident in one way or another.

Of course, as Hae-yeong attempts to confront this figure, she is reminded again and again of what a rich and powerful guy he is. This figure, who is incidentally your average fat cat, is beginning a campaign for becoming the next councilman of their neighborhood, and he is certainly not so pleased when Hae-yeong keeps approaching to him. Because he can lose the upcoming election because of her, he wants her to be suppressed as much as possible, and he surely has enough power for that.

What follows next is how our feisty heroine is constantly cornered in one way or another. No matter how much she tries to fight against her mighty opponent, nothing seems to be changed for her or her little brother, and she also comes to learn more of how problematic her father’s financial situation has really been. Maybe, as her aunt’s husband says to her with bitter resignation at one point later in the story, it is better for her and her little brother to step back and then give up while hoping for some mercy from her opponent.

Nevertheless, Hae-yeong is not someone who can easily step back at all, and her subsequent actions during the last act, which are already announced to us via the very title of the film, show us how far she is willing to go. She is quite reckless indeed, but we come to empathize more with her desperate defiance, and that is the main reason why the simple but effective climatic part of the film feels so cathartic.

As the edgy center of the film, Kim Hye-yoon is often electrifying as her character makes her stubborn stand against her opponent, and she is supported well by several other main cast members. While Oh Man-seok is as despicable as required by his supporting role, Park Hyuk-kown is well-cast as Hae-yong’s deeply flawed father, and young performer Park Si-woo holds his own little place well as Hae-young’s younger brother.

On the whole, “The Girl on a Bulldozer” is an engaging film distinguished by its lead actress’ strong performance, and director/writer Park Ri-woong made a solid feature film debut here. Although its epilogue part is rather redundant, the movie and its heroine do earn that at least, and you may find yourself hoping that things will get better for her in the future.

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