Review: Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000)

Directed by:
Cast: ,

Distributed in Australia by:

You can guess by the synopsis that this is a difficult film to write about: it wriggles about like a live thing, refusing to be pinned down by genre, plot, or style. And that alone makes it interesting. Add in a simple yet unusual plot, a ghost story, realistic characters played ably by a talented cast, and you’ve got a fine film.

First, though, I must make a confession: it took me three sessions to get through this film. Yes, three. Count ’em. The reason for this was an aspect of the film that might put you off altogether: there’s a strong sub-plot of cruelty to animals. Dogs, in fact. And while I’m more of a cat person, I still get quite unhappy at the thought of those innocent critters being supposedly hurled from rooftops (for example). A disclaimer states that no dogs were harmed during the making of the film, but it still looks real enough to disturb me. If you’re less of a sook than I am, this won’t bother you in the least.

Anyway, back to the story: we have Lee as Yoon-Ju, a rather introverted part-time lecturer, striving to find sufficient funds for a bribe to gain him a lecturing position, and Bae as Hyun-Nam, a rather dreamy accountant. Hyun-Nam works in the office of the managers for a large apartment complex in suburban Seoul, which complex contains the apartment where Yoon-Ju lives with his pregnant wife. Yoon-Ju dreams of being a lecturer, a dream interrupted by the barking of the weeny dog, while Hyun-Nam dreams of performing some heroic act that will get her on TV.

Now I have to say that the highlight of this film must be Bae Doo-Na, recently spotted in Take Care of my Cat at the Hong Kong International Film Festival. She invests her character with all the attributes necessary to make her credible, and manages to be incredibly funny (in a very odd sense), without straying into the realm of comedy. Sounds odd? Okay, let me explain, using a scene for illustration.

There’s a scene where Hyun-Nam spots the mysterious dog-napper throwing a pooch off the roof of a neighbouring building. She becomes fired with passionate fervour, and races over to the building to confront the evil-doer. We see her leaving the lift, girding her limbs for battle by pulling her hood over her head and pulling the cords tight. Sounds ho-hum? Yep, but you really have to see it to appreciate what this girl can do: she is Everyman (or -woman) on a mission, she’s the avenging angel in a yellow tracky top. In that one scene, she manages to encapsulate all our half-formed dreams, and all our little silliness.

The supporting cast also carry their roles with conviction, especially Hyun-Nam’s friend, who’s played by the same girl who played the fat ghost in Ghost In Love (sorry, can’t find the name). But for me, this is Bae’s film by a long chalk. A challenging film, not always comfortable, but filled with interest and talent and an experience you’ll never forget.

8.5 weeny dogs out of 10.
Bookmark the permalink.