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Although it might seem like an odd title, the Korean road movie “Rolling Home with a Bull” really is about just that, following a man on a road trip with a bull. Adapted from a novel by Kim Do Yeon, the film was directed by Lim Soon Rye, who previously helmed the award winning women’s handball outing “Forever the Moment” and most recently the humanist drama “Fly, Penguin”. Having premiered at the 2010 Pusan Film Festival, his latest effort is a very different affair, mixing human drama, comedy and spiritual themes, headlined by talented stars Kim Young Pil (“Closer to Heaven”) and Kong Hyo Jin (“Crush and Blush”).
The film follows Kim as farmer and aspiring poet Seon Ho, a man frustrated by his failure to make anything of himself, who takes out his anger by stealing his father’s prize bull. When he fails to sell the mild mannered beast at market he wanders the countryside in search of a buyer, until contacted by former lover Hyun Soo (Kong), who informs him that her husband, and his best friend, has died. After meeting him at the funeral, she decides to tag along with Seon Ho and the bull as their winding journey takes them towards Seoul.
“Rolling Home with a Bull” really is an appropriate title, as the film is a laid back affair that gently meanders along, with lots of drinking and conversation as Seon Ho has various encounters with oddball characters. The film certainly does pack in an impressive amount of soju swigging, with both Seon Ho and Hyun Soo spending a fair percentage of their time good and drunk. The two make for believably human and flawed figures, basically likeable despite their bumbling and near-constant bickering, and their developing relationship is not a conventional one. The film never really veers off into romance, choosing instead to use their past and present bonding as part of Seon Ho’s personal journey and awakening. Thankfully, none of the supporting cast are too bizarre or cheaply eccentric, though they are a funny bunch, and this does make the film very amusing in places, though without any obvious gags to speak of.
Unsurprisingly, the film is an allegorical affair and is laden with symbolism throughout. Given the importance of cows in Buddhist teachings, the bull itself obviously plays a large part in this, with scenes of it being ridden by a small child, and its becoming increasingly important to Seon as a possible cipher for his quest for acceptance and harmony. The supporting cast are similarly utilised, with most of them playing recurring roles or turning up in dreams and visions to impart strange advice. The film is very effective in this regard, and director Lim never overplays his hand, though the final act does get a little obscure in its ambiguity. Overall though, the viewer doesn’t need to be familiar with Buddhism to enjoy the film or to get the general gist, and in either case it’s definitely one which requires a touch of meditation to figure out its meaning.
Lim’s direction fits the material perfectly, being quiet and unobtrusive, with a naturalistic camera that mainly just sits back and leaves the characters to their business. At the same time, the film is pleasingly cinematic, with some picturesque scenery as Seon Ho and the bull make their way through remote villages, wooded mountains, rolling beaches, and finally to the big city. The soundtrack, featuring songs by Peter, Paul, and Mary is very apt, and as well as providing a reflection of the past central relationship between Seon Ho, Hyun Soo and her dead husband, it again underlines the film’s affably philosophical nature.
“Rolling Home with a Bull” is a film which makes the viewer think and which does ask a number of interesting questions, though in an understated manner which makes it more accessible and enjoyable than others which have tried to hammer their messages home. The film also works very well on a more basic road movie level, with interesting and likeable characters, and plenty of amusing moments en route to its existential conclusion.
Lim Soon-rye (director) / Lim Soon-rye (screenplay)
CAST: Kim Yeong-pil