The Elephant On The Bike is a coming-of-age drama about a man whose childhood has been overcast in painful memories due to his disability. Dong-gyu is a disabled man who lives on society’s fringe, unable to cope with the disapproval of those who stare at his damaged hand. As an 11-year-old boy, he was bullied because of his handicap and rode his bicycle alone. Aware of his struggle, his loving father often took him to the zoo to show him the elephants, which didn’t have any hands but could do anything. Dong-gyu is now a grown man, working in a zoo taking care of an elephant. He is introduced to his girlfriend’s parents but rejected. While his ego is hurt, Dong-gyu’s father gets into a car accident, which makes Dong-gyu realize that it was his father’s love that kept him strong in the face of reality. It’s a candid story about one man’s internal struggles as he makes the transition from adolescence to adulthood, carrying the psychological wound caused by his physical deformity, plus the impact of his disability on his family.
Despite the constant social and family conflicts that dampen his already disheartened soul, a glimmer of hope arises as he discovers the ultimate joy of life – loving someone and being loved. In his feature-length debut, Kwon conveys the message that not all physically challenged protagonists end up miraculously overcoming their hardships. A poignant tearjerker minus the superficial themes, The Elephant On The Bike offers realism throughout its heartwarming tale. Life has not been an easy ride for Dong Kyu (Yang Jin Woo) simply because he is missing one hand. Always the target of mockery by his schoolmates, Dong Kyu hated going to school. He couldn’t even ride his favorite blue bicycle, which his father made for him. His only consolation in life was going to the zoo with his father and watching the elephants. Now a grown-up, Dong Kyu works at a small zoo as a zookeeper taking care of elephants.
The Elephant on the Bike deals with evocative and highly emotional material, but first-time director Kwon Yong-kook handles it with precision. Everyday is a routine without major happenings until he meets his girlfriend’s parents and experiences another setback. Life’s cruelty not only takes his girlfriend away from him but also his father who dies from a car accident. Amidst the terrible tragedy, a new face enters his life – Ha Kyung (Kim Jung Hwa), a piano teacher whom he gradually falls in love with. But will this bring a happy ending for Dong Kyu? With these and a number of other recent new films showing a willingness to confront the circumstances of the individual within modern Korean society, the future of Korean cinema at least looks promising indeed.
To be quite honest, however, I had a hard time understanding why the title of this movie involved elephants. Then, later in the movie, it shows the little girl who befriended him as a child had drawn a book of an elephant on a bike and then at the end is a song dealing with the connected topics. He worked in a zoo around elephants as well. I found this to be slow, the guy was down all the time, the family was angry and sad, there was no good times or happy times. Neutral films usually have a hard time dealing with the emotions expressed and were basically as unfeeling as his hand was supposed to be until the end when the father dies. However, this is a somber film that is very well worth your time. Recommended.