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Rolling Home with a Bull -- Film Review

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BUSAN, South Korea -- A peasant-poet, a bull and a widow become travel companions and form a love-hate relationship in "Rolling Home with a Bull" -- a road movie with truckloads of charm that doubles as a Buddhist pilgrimage. Director Yim Sun-rye knows how to tell a cock-and-bull story with raconteur's skill. She also brings to the screen unspoiled rural vistas of Korea that would give wanderlust to the most sedate audience.

If Yim's treatment of the ending in her sleeper hit "Forever the Moment" seems a tad unconventional for a sports film, "Rolling"'s level of quirkiness has put serious commercial prospects out to pasture. Yet, given the break-out success of "My Old Partner" (a documentary about an old farmer and his ox) in Korea, local reactions to another bovine-based flick could be bullish.

Aspiring poet Sun-ho (Gan Young-Pil), who is sick of farming life, drives off with his father's prized bull after an argument. When he fails to sell the bull at the nearest cattle market, he drives his truck around the country in search of the right buyer. On the way, he is stalked by Hyun-soo (Kang Hyo-Jin), an old flame whose husband (formerly Sun-ho's buddy) has just died. Other unusual figures, like a sage monk and a bull-loving father-and-son pair are fodder for wry humor and spiritual insight.

As the monk explains, the cow is a Buddhist symbol of enlightenment. Although Sun-ho wants to get rid of his bull, it transpires that the real beast of burden in his life is his inability to let go of the past and move on.

The characters owe their vividness to deadpan dialogue. The non-stop stream of insults that Sun-ho's parents exchange is wickedly funny even in subtitles. When the hot-tempered father snaps at his wife: "I'd rather sell you than sell the cow," he is like a walking parody of the pig-headed farmer in "The Old Partner."

Paced as comfortably as a drive in the country, the narrative flow is so smooth that it moves in and out of flashbacks and dream sequences imperceptibly. However, in the last leg, Yim seems to worry that she has run out of things to show, so the dreams get more surreal and dramatic, upsetting the original mellowness. As a motif for Sun-ho's youth and spiritual journey, the song "500 Miles" by Peter, Paul and Mary elicits different moods along the way without being corny.

Pusan International Film Festival, Gala Presentation

Production: Bori Pictures.

Cast: Kim Youngpil, Kong Hyojin, Mek bo.
Director: Yim Sun-rye
Screenwriter: Park Kyounghee
Producer: Yang Dongmyung.
Cinematogropher: Park Youngjoon.
Art Director: Kim Jongwoo.
Music: Roh Youngsim.
Editor: Park Kyoungsook.
Sound: Se Youngjoon.
No MPAA rating, 106 minutes.