BUSAN, South Korea, Oct. 8 (UPI) -- Kim Hye-yoon has become one of South Korea's hottest young stars, thanks to roles on hit dramas Sky Castle and Extraordinary You. But she unveils a very different side as a tattooed hellraiser out for revenge in The Girl on a Bulldozer, which premiered Friday at the Busan International Film Festival.
In the film, Kim plays Gu Hye-young, a college dropout who sets out to investigate a mysterious car accident that left her father brain-dead. Before long, she's gone down a rabbit hole of corruption, violence and deceit with little hope of escape.
Kim, 24, told UPI that she was immediately drawn to the challenge of playing Hye-young, who is shockingly brazen and relentless in her quest for vengeance.
"I had never seen a character like this, who breaks the rules all the time," Kim said. "She's entirely new. I wasn't sure how to play this part, and that made me want to do the film."
When we meet Hye-young, she's an angry young woman, trapped in limbo with a gambler father (Park Hyuk-kwon), whose Incheon restaurant is constantly on the edge of financial ruin, and a little brother (Park Si-woo) she is determined to protect.
She loses a fast-food job and is stuck doing court-mandated vocational training for an assault rap. Instead of studying to become a barista or a stylist, Hye-young learns to drive a bulldozer -- a skill that, as the title suggests, will come in handy later.
We also learn quickly that Hye-young doesn't back down from anyone, whether it's an interloper with designs on her father's restaurant or a cop who dismissively raps her on her head. Instead of turning the other cheek, she slaps back twice as hard,
"Personally, I think [Hye-young] has a purity about herself, and she reacts right away if someone crosses her line," Kim said. "I don't think of her as violent. She's just honest with her feelings."
The film's director, Park Ri-Woong, said that he set out with a vision of a character whose only power is an uncanny determination.
"She's someone who looks weak but inside she's really strong," Park told UPI. "She's doesn't have any secret spy skills, she doesn't gain any extraordinary abilities. I just wanted to see a character that takes on every obstacle she faces."
The obstacles keep multiplying for Hye-young, as her investigation runs up against powerful business and political interests in the form of her father's former boss (Oh Man-suk), who owns the land on which the family's restaurant sits.
Park said he didn't intend to make a social statement, but The Girl on a Bulldozer explores a milieu familiar to fans of Parasite and Squid Game: a wealthy society in which inequality is on the rise and opportunities are on the decline -- where the strong prey on the weak with little consequence.
It's also a setting in which a young woman like Hye-young is not expected to drive a bulldozer or have a full-sleeve tattoo, much less fight back against injustices large and small.
Kim said it took her a while to fully embrace Hye-young's defiant persona.
"I was very careful at first," she said. "Part of me thought: 'Is it OK to do this?' But inside, I realized that I really did want to break all the rules."
The Girl on a Bulldozer, which is director Park's first feature film, is slated for theatrical release in South Korea early next year.
In the meantime, Kim Hye-yoon fans will find her starring in a pair of upcoming TV series: Inspector Joy, which premieres next month, and Snowdrop, set for December.
The 26th Busan International Film Festival runs through Oct. 15. It is screening 233 films from 70 countries.