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Barking Dogs Never Bite
|     review    |     notes     |     availability     |

Lee Sung-jae and canine pal
Korean: 플란다스의 개
  Year: 2000  
  Director: Bong Joon-ho  
  Cast: Lee Sung-jae, Bae Doo-na, Byun Hee-bong, Kim Ho-Jung, Ko Soo-Hee, Kim Roe-ha, Sung Jung-Sun, Im Sang-soo  
The Skinny: Former Korean short film director Bong Joon-ho debuts with a very good first feature. Bong's black comedy is hilarious, smart and does its best to subvert genre conventions. It also allows Lee Sung-jae's range to further expand, and proves Bae Doo-na is one of the best young talents in the industry.
by LunaSea:

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 (don't ask).

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)

Notes: • Dog lovers beware! There are a few scenes featuring dog abuse. At the beginning of the film, a note informs us the stunts were performed in presence of a doctor, and no harm was done to the animals (though I'm still waiting for the film that admits the contrary).
Availability: Spectrum DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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  Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen