Rolling (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): As she begins to roll under the pandemic

South Korean independent film “Rolling” is a modest but sensitive character drama surrounding its young heroine’s emotional journey toward regained hope and optimism. Although it initially requires some patience from us due to its rather slow narrative pacing, the movie eventually comes to engage and move us more than expected, and you may find yourself cheering for its young heroine as observing how she finally becomes ready to roll again for her life.

During its first half, the movie slowly establishes how things have been depressingly aimless for its young heroine. Since quitting her college education and then breaking up with her boyfriend for some unknown reason, Joo-ri (Shim Dal-gi) has been stuck in a long period of lethargy as living alone in a one-room residence belonging to her mother, and the first scene in the film succinctly conveys to us her messy and melancholic status as she is flaccidly going through another summer day.

However, this pathetic life condition of hers is suddenly interrupted by one forceful demand from her single mother. Joo-ri’s grandmother recently happens to become very ill, and Joo-ri’s mother must go back to her family house as soon as possible, so she demands that Joo-ri should take care of her kimbop shop instead during her temporary absence. Although not welcoming this demand at all, Joo-ri has no choice from the beginning because her mother threatens to kick her daughter out of that one-room residence, so she soon begins to work at the kimbop shop although she does not know that much about how to make kimbops as well as her mother.

Now some of you is surely wondering what the hell kimbop is, so I will explain to you a bit about what kimbop is. It is a common Korean rice roll wrapped in dried seaweed, and it also contains several other ingredients such as meat and vegetable, depending on its maker’s choice. While I often enjoy eating it at local kimbop shops, I also like a lot eating the ones made by my mother, and I gladly help her a bit whenever she is going to make kimbops for my family.

Anyway, after a number of clumsy trials, Joo-ri begins to make fairly passable kimbops. After all, all she has to do is following her mother’s own preparation process, and those few customers coming to the shop do not have much problem with her kimbops on the whole. In addition, the shop is frequently empty due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic (The movie is one of a few recent South Korean films depicting the current pandemic, by the way), so she simply occupies the spot without working that much.

Nevertheless, as her mother comes to stay around her grandmother longer than expected, Joo-ri finds herself interacting more with the outside world than before. There is a shy lad who comes to the shop everyday for eating a kimbop, and Joo-ri becomes closer to this young dude after she hurriedly takes him to where he must take a very important examination on one day. Although he inadvertently causes more inconvenience for her, he sincerely apologizes later, and she willingly lets him come into her daily life because, well, he is really nice to her.

In the meantime, Joo-ri also comes to reflect more on how long her life has been stalled. As looking for a certain old item requested by her mother, she comes upon several other old items from her past, and they naturally remind her of how she was more spirited compared to her current status. After that, she gradually becomes more active about her life, and a series of small episodic moments let us sense more of her slow inner change along the narrative.

The mood becomes a little more serious because of a sudden incident happening outside the screen, but the movie steadily maintains its dry and restrained attitude as before. When Joo-ri and her mother happen to have a moment for honest conversation between them later in the story, the movie wisely avoids unnecessary melodrama, and that is why this moment feels more sincere and poignant than expected.

Above all, the movie is carried well by the strong presence of its lead actress. I only came to notice her via her notable supporting performance in “Snowball” (2021), but I can tell you here that Shim Dal-gil is one of the most promising newcomers to watch in South Korean cinema. While never making any excuse on her character’s human flaws, Shim’s engaging performance holds our attention even when the movie is spinning its wheels a bit, and she is both funny and touching especially when her character has an unexpected moment of epiphany on what she can and must do for her life right now. In addition, she is also supported well by several good supporting performers including Jung Eun-kyung and Woo Hyo-woon, and Jung and Shim click well together as a mother and daughter who have known well each other for many years.

Overall, “Rolling”, which is incidentally the second feature film of director Kwak Min-seung, is worthwhile to watch for its sensitive storytelling as well as its commendable lead performance, and I particularly appreciate a glimmer of hope and optimism shown from the very last scene of the film. Yes, there will probably be a lot more difficulties for her, but she surely knows where she is going now, doesn’t she?

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