Flandersui gae

 (Bong Joon-ho, Korea, South, 2000) 106 minutes


Director: Joon-ho Bong
Producer: Min-hwan Cho
Screenplay: Joon-ho Bong,
Ji-ho Song, Derek Son Tae-woong
Cinematography: Yong-kyou Cho,
Yeong-gyu Jo
Editor: Eun Soo Lee
Music: Sung-woo Jo
Sung-jae Lee (Yun-ju)
Du-na Bae (Hyeon-nam)
Hie-bong Byeon
Ho-jung Kim
Roe-ha Kim

Reviews and notes

No dogs were harmed in the making of this movie. This statement wisely appears before the opening credits of Bong Joon-ho's wonderful black comedy Barking Dogs Never Bite, as there are several of man's best friends that meet with rather unfortunate endings in the film. (PETA members beware.)

Released in 2000 in the midst of South Korea's economic crisis, the film contains the same sort of social criticism found in dramatic films of that period, particularly Happy End. Like Happy End, Barking Dogs Never Bite has the dynamic of the husband acting as domestic caretaker while the wife is working to support the family, and both films have a lot to say about marriage, career choices, and the life people lead in massive apartment complexes that function as microcosms within Seoul. Though the husbands in both films suffer from a sense of emasculation, their ways of handling it couldn't be more different.

Yun-ju (Lee Sung-jae) is an unemployed professor living with his very pregnant wife who (when not at work) spends most of her time berating him and barking orders. Becoming a full-fledged professor requires bribing a university official, and Yun-ju has neither the money nor the desire to do so (he'd rather go for a walk in the woods.) Lazing away his days in their apartment, he finds himself irritated by a yelping dog, and decides to do something about it.

This sets in motion a series of comic events, which include Yun-ju meeting up with Hyeon-nam (Bae Du-na), a frustrated, directionless young woman working in the apartment complex. In the midst of sorting out the various canine disappearances, the two learn a great deal about themselves, but the film never once turns sappy, nor does it take the romantic turn it would had it been made in Hollywood. The film's real strength lies in its rich characters, particularly Hyeon-nam, who is the antithesis of the simple, beautiful young woman often found in Korean comedies. She's more of a slacker with heart who has yet to find her place in the world.

For a comedy, the pacing is slow, but deliberate. Bong takes the time to develop the world of this apartment complex, with its odd assortment of characters, including a janitor who tells a lengthy tale of the mysterious 'Boiler Kim' - several minutes that bravely slow the film down to a near crawl, but somehow manages to work.

Some of the more subtle moments of social satire/criticism might be lost on those unfamiliar with life in Seoul but the anxieties, stress and feelings of insignificance that arise from living in a crowded, featureless apartment block in an equally crowded metropolis are fairly universal. Nature is literally at their doorstep in the film, yet few have the time (or desire) to even look. Bong emphasizes this by often placing his characters in tiny spaces - cramped toy stores, storage rooms in basements, office cubicles, etc. That the "victims" of all this should be dogs is both comedically brilliant and metaphorically astute. Barking Dogs Never Bite stays dark up until the ending, including a final shot that is surprisingly moving and even a bit depressing.
-, 3 January 2005

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