This is one of those films I had been meaning to watch since the inception of this blog, and for some reason I never quite got round to. The reasons are two-fold – one of my favourite directors (Bong Joon-ho) and one of my favourite Korean actresses (Bae Du-na). And whilst it is not always the case that a movie is the sum of its parts, in this case I am happy to report things work out just perfectly.
“Barking Dogs Never Bite” was Bong’s first foray into full length feature films, and possibly I am a little forgiving of its rough edges because of this. It tells the story of a young lecturer (Lee Sung-jae) who is struggling under pressure in both his lack of career advancement, and the ongoing pregnancy of his somewhat overbearing wife. This is all not helped by the constant barking of a mystery dog in his apartment block. He sets out to silence the hound once and for all, and well, let’s just say dark hi-jinks occur (it never quite goes to wacky). Whilst no real animals may have been hurt in the making of this movie, not all our little four legged friends make it to the end. Bae Du-na plays a civil servant who gets dragged into the mess, while investigating the growing number of missing dogs.
OK, we need to get this out of the way. This is a dark comedy. At least two dogs die. Personally, I am not much of a dog person, but I see how this can upset some people. However, I was in the position to see an episode of the BBC’s “Cooking in the Danger Zone” a few weeks ago, which investigated Korea’s love affair with dogs. And yes I do mean the eating of them. But I also mean the love affair the young and rich seem to have with dogs also – buying them expensive clothes, etc. Bong is critiquing Korea’s canine relationship, prodding it a little with a very dark comedic stick. Not only that but he has time to also look at the culture of bribes and corruption.
Although the film probably could be guilty of lacking a little focus at times, you cannot help but be impressed with the various styles that Bong manages to weave into his tale. There are action scenes, comedic scenes, quiet moments of contemplation, brilliant fantasy. At one point the film is taken over by the Janitor, who tells a chilling campfire story, and you cannot help but be totally enthralled by the tale.
The film is far from flawless though. For me, it lacks a satisfying conclusion, whilst the various characters do reach changes or endpoints in their lives, I felt that maybe the audience could have been given a little more reward. And maybe, just maybe, there could have been a little more punishment for various misdeeds.
Bae Du-na is as wonderful as ever. She is not the most beautiful Korean actress, but my gosh she is one of the coolest. She is effortless and natural on the screen.
So, in conclusion, this is an excellent little film. Enjoy it for what it is, but also enjoy it for what is shows – a director experimenting for some amazing times ahead.