REVIEW: Bulldog [2016]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 17 minutes | Release Date: 2016 (USA)
Director(s): Benjamin Tran
Writer(s): Benjamin Tran

“Who does drugs in their own home?”

It can get tiresome watching movie upon movie projecting supposedly authentic glimpses of life’s complexities progress towards having its troubled central character find love, clarity, or redemption with a bow on top. So tiresome in fact that we find ourselves waiting for the moment to come as a rule of inevitability. As soon as the lead starts spiraling we anticipate the epiphany that will change his/her life around once and for all. Writer/director Benjamin Tran understands this bit of Hollywood conditioning and throws Sean Kang (Vin Kridakorn) into the fire to combat it—a quiet kid mired by a tragic existence without a support system and too defeated to overcome. You can tell he doesn’t want to be this way, but he isn’t offered much opportunity to stop.

The short is entitled Bulldog, an apt moniker once you experience the trajectory Sean takes. His blank face in a constant grimace of indifference, sizing up threats with a steely glare and no-nonsense demeanor to simply get through the day. This is his second school in two years after a string of suspensions booted him and already the lack of humanity bred into our youth shines. The kids he gravitates towards as a result of their drug connections show no compassion throwing out racial slurs as quickly as they receive them. Everyone is on edge, running their mouths despite knowing they can’t cash the checks being written. And through it all Sean just stares back in silence. But it’s only a matter of time before restraint disappears.

It’s here where we learn indirect details about his past. We don’t end up with a firm grasp on these incidents—his brother’s passing, parents’ divorce, etc.—but we feel the emotional turmoil they have wrought. These events have driven Sean’s ambitions into the ground. He’s become numb to them as a means of coping, his acting out a cry for help from family that simply doesn’t care. They don’t want the burden. They’ve already lost the child who would have made them proud and Sean isn’t worth the effort or love necessary to push him onto that track. Instead he’s rendered a disappointment in their eyes. If he wants to throw his life away, that’s on him. Years of this ambivalence would make anyone give up hope.

Tran handles the material with emotional precision moving from prayer to intimidation, quiet to intense. Kridakorn’s anger is ever-present, even in his soft-spoken conversation with a student helping him find his locker. He wants to put it away. He wants to talk to his mother or hear an apology from his father or engage in discourse with his principal, but they’d rather sweep him aside to the next adult on the list. Eventually the person they think you are becomes the only person you’re able to be. Sometimes it gets their attention, but other times it isolates you even further. Sean is at this crossroads and the strength to combat it grows thinner by the minute. Once violence becomes our only means to feel, we’ve already been lost.

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