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'Rolling' Review - A Story of Food

'Rolling’ is a 2021 Korean film directed by Kwak Min-seung in his debut feature, starring Shim Dal-gi as a lethargic twenty-something named Ju-ri who finds purpose in helping her mother (played by Jung Eun-kyeong) at her 'kimbap' (seaweed rice rolls) shop. In its brisk 74-minute runtime, 'Rolling' combines both realistic drama and romantic comedy to create a film that brims with life, reminding us to relax and appreciate the little things.

Credit - AlloCiné

Audience members may immediately recognise part of themselves in Ju-ri’s lethargy, which is made clear in the opening scene. Like a fly on the wall, we observe Ju-ri at home as she scrolls through an endless Instagram feed, plays games on her ‘Nintendo Switch’ and watches TV: all too familiar behaviours for anyone who’s been alive in the past 2 years. Her homebound inertia is soon interrupted by a phone call from her mother, asking her to fill in at her kimbap shop while she takes care of Ju-ri’s sick grandmother. This spurs Ju-ri into action, and slowly we see her gain a sense of purpose and enthusiasm for life that was previously absent.

Food is a crucial element of the film: it serves as the main uniting force bringing people together, allowing Ju-ri to bond with her mother and the regulars at the kimbap shop. When we are introduced to the technique of kimbap rolling, the camera assumes a top-down view, recalling the sushi scene from Wes Anderson’s 2018 ‘Isle of Dogs’. Every little detail is conveyed to the audience, from the amount of rice used, to the order in which the ingredients are placed in the roll. The film takes care to emphasise the effort that Ju-ri’s mother puts into a seemingly simple task, focusing on it almost in a meditative way. But the languor of this activity is much unlike Ju-ri’s own apathetic torpor: it has intention, a way of driving life forwards and allowing things to happen at their own pace.

Indeed, much of 'Rolling' revolves around the bonds that Ju-ri forms with the kimbap shop customers. An amusing side plot involves a boy allergic to pickled radish, who she helps get to his exam on time and later insists he repay her by helping her at the shop. In lieu of any major conflict, the protagonists’ greatest tribulations come from simple things like a huge kimbap order with a short turnaround. That isn’t to say everything is sunshine and rainbows: director Kwak is acutely conscious of its pandemic setting, and we see the impact it has on the small businesses nearby. In a Q&A shown alongside the film, Kwak emphasised his intention to tell a “realistic Korean story”, with elements of the pandemic mixed in. While preparing for the film he went to shops and discreetly observed the customers, an Ozu-esque approach that is reflected in the cinematography: the camera rarely moves, as if it were a passive observer watching Ju-ri live her life. This ‘realistic’ perspective is buoyed by symmetry and colour, each pastel-hued frame exuding warmth and humour. Cool, dark tones are almost completely absent as the bleakness of the pandemic setting fills in instead. That’s not to say that it hangs like a shadow over every scene: the naturalistic oranges and yellows prevent it from dominating a film that is, fundamentally, an intimate story of Ju-ri’s personal growth.

Credit - AlloCiné

Parental expectations are often at play in Ju-ri’s relationship with her mother, and to some audience members this may seem strict. Her constant criticism and seeming lack of sympathy for Ju-ri might be harsh, but this can be ascribed to cultural differences. It’s not that Ju-ri’s mother doesn’t love her - she just expresses it in a different way to what we might be used to, and by story’s end we see how their bond has grown stronger through a touching heart-to-heart over soju. Cultural differences aside, this aspect of the story will resonate the most with those feeling lost in their lives, or struggling with their sense of purpose.

Idealistic and whimsical, ‘Rolling’ is ultimately a story about the magic in everyday life, from friendly conversations with strangers to unexpected meet cutes and making the best of what you have. While it doesn’t do anything groundbreaking, it doesn’t have to either: with this film it’s enough to stop and smell the roses… or in this case, some REALLY appetising kimbap.

Edited by Saffron Brown Davis, Film Editor


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