BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE (2000)
Bong Joon-ho's superb debut feature is a black comedy which somehow succinctly blends slapstick with distressed dogs to produce a characteristically quirky social satire
Something that seems to emanate from Director Bong’s first movie is that he is a filmmaker with a defined style and message well before he ever put himself behind a lens.
This is a brave and confident first outing, taking on difficult issues such as animal cruelty and attempting to place it front-and-centre of a comedy-led film. The result for many filmmakers might have been disastrous, but as would often become with case with Director Bong, he pulls it all off.
We are told quite directly that ‘No animals were harmed during the making of this film’ at its outset and it soon becomes apparent why such a disclaimer was necessary. Closer to the film’s conclusion, a sweet, yappy dog must be saved from the clutches of a hungry cook intent on dog stew featuring some disconcerting near misses with an iron pole.
While a series of diminutive canines fuel the story's developments, they are devices to shed light on the desperate lives of various disillusioned humans instead.
Out-of-work academic Ko Yun-ju (Lee Sung-jae, Attack the Gas Station) lives in an apartment block with his pregnant wife Eun-sil (Kim Ho-jung). Yun-ju aspires to become a fully-fledged professor, but instead finds himself at home annoyed by a barking dog from another apartment.
Park Hyun-nam (Bae Doona – Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, The Host) is a work-shy bookkeeper for the apartments, but dreams of appearing on the TV, even for the most minor of events or achievements.
These two despondent and ultimately lazy characters see their worlds combine as the yapping of the dog becomes too much for Yun-ju to handle.
Quirky and bizarre, you never feel quite grounded in where the film is going and it is a better viewing experience for it. Hope seems to flickers at times, such as when an unused scratch card is found by Yun-ju before we are hit with another dose of harsh reality.
The film’s score is likely to divide audiences – a hectic and jumpy jazz soundtrack far removed from Bong’s later work, but one that fits the onscreen developments here nicely.
The score also fits with the seemingly opposing notions that unfurl before us. You can be disgusted by the animal cruelty one minute and laughing at developments in the same context the next.
Director Bong would go on to make a career out of such discombobulating filmmaking and his first film is a superb start to a cinematic career defined by its unique storytelling.