NYAFF 2022: The Girl on a Bulldozer

Directed by: Park Ri-woong
Distributed by: 815 Pictures

Written by Patrick Hao


The title “The Girl on a Bulldozer” is an evocative image, one that filmmaker, Park Ri-woong, relies heavily on in his debut feature. The image of a petite woman handling such a large, unwieldy machine with so much destructive power. The girl in question is Hae-young (Kim Hye-yoon), who is simmering with resentment and anger. Her anger is towards many things, but most prominently the inequity of life. She is 19 and directionless. None of that is helped by her deadbeat father (Park Hyuk-kwon), the owner of a Chinese restaurant, a gambler, and an all-around rogue. The only person Hae-young really seems to care for is her little brother. 

Then her life is turned even more upside down when her father is in a car accident rendering him in a coma. This burdens Hae-young with all the financial responsibility of the restaurant, her brother, and, soon, administrative hurdles, as she deals with the life insurance company. That is when “The Girl on a Bulldozer” becomes a pseudo-political thriller as Hae-young finds discrepancies between the police report and what the insurance company is saying.

While shot and paced like a thriller, the assured debut from Park Ri-woong is without a doubt a character study. Reductively, it plays like a pop version of the Dardennes Brothers’ “Two Days One Night.” The film rarely ever leaves Hae-young, which is anchored by an emotionally deep performance from Kim Hye-yoon as she struggles through containing her simmering anger toward society and the inequities it brings. 

 As the film progresses, it becomes clear that this character is not so much a character per se, but an amalgamation of many South Koreans’ feelings of being left behind. It’s hard not to think of the over-the-top Michael Douglas character in “Falling Down,” another character more representative of overall cultural attitudes than an individual character. That is why the convoluted developments as the mystery progresses are almost forgivable. This is a parable as opposed to Dardennes’ social realism. 

“The Girl on a Bulldozer” is an incredibly earnest film functioning through its emotive state. But, in doing that, it gets stalled on its tracks by the middle of the film (pun intended!) until the titular bulldozer moment. It is every bit as satisfying as when Al Pacino in “Dog Day Afternoon” leaves the bank for the airport, even if the ending was never in doubt. Capitalism prevails. 

Yet, the final moments still bother me, an almost antithesis of what the film was building up to. Maybe it is good for such a dour movie for there to be some hope laid in there. But, the emotional catharsis was already there. The happy ending cheapens it. Either way, Park’s social satire is an interesting encapsulation of social distress, one whose feelings are able to cross cultural borders easily.

“The Girl on a Bulldozer” Trailer

“The Girl on a Bulldozer” was screened as part of the 2022 edition of the New York Asian Film Festival.

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