Bong Joon-Ho’s Feature Debut BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE
Fans of Bong Joon-Ho’s filmography are eagerly waiting for their chance to see Parasite, if they haven’t seen it already. Whether or not you’ve already caught his most recent masterpiece, hop on over to Shudder to check out the film that started it all, the darkly hilarious Barking Dogs Never Bite.
It’s clear from this first feature that Bong was never going to play by the rules when it came to cinema. The film is bleakly funny, abjectly horrifying, and laced with a razor-sharp commentary on class (one of his trademarks). Dog-lovers and folks who can’t stand violence towards animals, be warned – this film is not for you. However, it’s vital to note that no animals were harmed during the making of the film.
Set in a massive apartment complex, the film centers around Yun-Ju (Sung-Jae Lee), an out-of-work academic with a very pregnant wife, Eun-Sil (Ho-jung Kim), serious money troubles, and zero patience for dogs. Seems there are a few in their complex, despite the rules clearly stating they’re not allowed. But there’s one in particular that he can never seem to locate who just will not shut up. To try and fix his annoying situation, he resorts to kidnapping the dog (dog-napping?) in order to get some peace and quiet. Once flyers start going up around the building looking for the poor pup, Hyeon-Nam (the incredible Doona Bae) takes it upon herself to try and track down the not-so-stealthy kidnapper for fame and glory. And, you know, to do the right thing. With lots of mistaken pup identity, calamity ensues as Yun-Ju consistently messes up every situation he’s in, upping the bleak-factor.
Barking Dogs Never Bite is textbook Bong, from the wickedly bleak humor and the unflinching shock factor to its poignant underbelly. The film is littered with complex characters, most of whom aren’t overly likable – another Bong trademark. Whether they’re part of a vicious cycle of generational poverty, oppressed by a system that’s stacked against them, or terrible communicators living with emotionally abusive spouses, everyone is deeply human and oddly sympathetic, despite their best efforts. It’s also full of stellar performances. Doona Bae gives a particularly memorable turn as the well-meaning if not altogether altruistic Hyeon-Nam. This was her second feature following 1999’s iconic Ringu.
Like with most of his work, the film defies genre conventions at every turn. You’ll laugh and immediately feel guilty for it. You’ll cringe, wondering why you haven’t looked away yet or turned it off. But, at the end of the day, Barking Dogs Never Bite hits with a genre-melding, Hitchcockian weight we’ve come to know and love from Bong.
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