Director: Kwak Min-seung
Starring: Shim Dal-gi, Jung Eun-kyeong,
Country: South Korea
Running Time: 74 min
Full of charm, Kwak Min-seung’s Rolling is an enjoyable warm tonic that you never knew you needed. Min-seung completes the rather difficult task of giving us an entertainingly breezy but emotionally layered film.
Twenty-something Juri (Shim Dal-gi) is shaken out of her homebound lethargy when her mother asks her to fill in at her kimbap (seaweed rice rolls) shop. Juri has never learned how to make kimbap, but she reluctantly takes over while her mother stays with Juri’s ailing grandmother. There is little glamour or excitement in the running of the shop, but Juri’s change in routine slowly starts to influence her.
While the shadow of COVID-19 hangs over Rolling, Min-seung pointedly shows how older small businesses have struggled under the pressures of trying to survive in a market that required them to have face to face customers. However, he can also show the audience via his characters that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that our futures and the futures of such businesses and their owners need to be as grim as first thought.
With that strong undercurrent flowing through the film, we are allowed to enjoy the attempts of Juri discovering herself and coming out to be the person she deserves to be. Rife with scenes that any child can relate to where they do something wrong while being taught by their parent, Juri trains night and day to make the kimbaps during her mother’s absence. Then, resorting to altering the menu so that she does not struggle as much, she finds ways around her mother’s famous anchovy kimbap.
Filled with humour, it is hard not to have a smile on your face during those moments in Rolling. Juri’s mother doesn’t trust her, so has her friend and baker come and check-in; Juri has the usual customers, one of who was a romantic partner from her youth. Here you get a solid idea of where the film is going, Rolling never tries to pretend to be something that it is not, and by being so smooth and confident with what it knows it is, you settle in and relax quite quickly.
Shim Dal-gi gives us a fantastic performance as the quarter-life crisis lead. Lost and merely floating along in life, Juri doesn’t have a single thing figured out. However, her transformation from a lazy university dropout to what we get at the film’s end feels authentic and earned. She is the heart of the film, and by not having her character detail or inform the audience of every thought, we, like Juri, are allowed to work things out.
The supporting cast all do their jobs very well with the constant stream of humour, allowing light and subtle approach to work well. That is not to say that when Min-seung wants to get serious that he cannot, there are scenes that work thanks tremendously to him keeping the camera at a distance from the characters. Allowing them to not only brief but let go of their emotions. It is a very sensible direction, and with Kim Jin-hyeong’s careful and bright cinematography, it becomes memorable.
It could be very easy to overcomplicate Rolling and add too many characters and issues, but writer Min Kangsan keeps the story relatively simple and thus very relatable for audiences. By almost keeping the story as lean and direct as it does, Rolling becomes a welcome surprise of a film. You are almost expected to have these big moments come and take the characters down roads they normally wouldn’t travel just to keep the story alive. But thanks to the performances and the story, we are already all-in on Juri and her self discovery.
Rolling is the type of film that you can just sit down and enjoy, and by keeping everything simple and accomplishing those very well, you are thoroughly entertained. There are not nearly enough films like this around.
The London Korean Film Festival 2021 takes place from 4 November – 19 November