Yoon-ju (Lee Sung-jae)
is a lecturer who hopes to become a professor. He has
no stable income, and his pregnant wife constantly reminds
him that she's the one wearing the pants in the family.
The apartment complex where he lives is a noisy mess,
with dogs barking all the time. One day he eventually
snaps, kidnapping what seems to be the culprit. Hanging
the dog was too cruel, so he tries to lock it in an
old wardrobe in the basement. Hyun-nam (Bae Doo-na)
works at an office approving "lost dog" claims.
She dreams of doing a heroic act and appear on TV because
of it. Both characters are slackers whose life offer
little excitement. They meet by accident, but they eventually
develop a strange friendship involving dog soup, chases,
radish, lots of alcohol and the infamous Boiler Kim
After his short films
Incoherence and White Man (both 1994),
director Bong Joon-ho debuted with this acclaimed black
comedy. He shows an intelligent handling of characters
who are always swinging between sympathetic and the
opposite. In particular, Lee Sung-jae's character is
portrayed as a prick at the beginning, but slowly we
start to understand why he's reacting that way. His
wife is almost unbearable, he has to deal with janitors
who like dog soup, and of course the little rascals
who are making all that noise. Unemployment is also
causing stress for him, and he only finds work with
bribes. He's living like a dog, and making a lot of
noise himself. But deep inside he's a good person, so
he won't bite. Get it?
Good performances from
Lee are nothing new, but his range has been remarkable
as well. He has impressed in romantic comedies (Art
Museum By The Zoo), action comedies (Attack The
Gas Station, Kick The Moon), and melodramas
(Ghost In Love, A Day). Recently he even
held his own in Kang Woo-suk's crime thriller Public
Enemy (opposite Sol Kyung-gu). He's become quite
reliable, and at only 32 years of age, he'll be one
of the biggest stars in the business for a while. Barking
Dogs also marks Bae Doo-na's breakthrough performance.
With her wide-eyed expressions, curious reactions and
delightful charm. she's shown a huge talent for comedy.
Recently, she's done work (in Park Chan-wook's Sympathy
for Mr. Vengeance) that shows she can handle dramatic
roles as well.
The pace of this film
is weird; it doesn't really try to be a laugh-out-loud
comedy, even though there are many hilarious moments.
This is a film that mixes thought provoking themes with
the usual formulas of black comedy, unusual characters
and uncommon plotting. The quirky, jazzy soundtrack
by Jo Sung-woo (who, along with Yoko Kanno and Joe Hisaishi,
is one of the best three composers in Asia) helps the
smooth transition between situations. This is another
interesting work out of Korea, which is becoming something
close to a cinematic paradise. (LunaSea 2002)