Barking Dogs Never Bite, 2000
dir: Bong Joon-ho
Bong Joon-ho was largely unnoticed until THE HOST grabbed international attention. Even that, in a world where most people choose their movies based on genre and has little regard of who the director is, it is easy to overlook this director’s two previous gems, i.e. MEMORIES OF MURDER and this movie that I am about to review.
BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE is Bong Joon-ho’s first feature length movie and we can already see from this movie the director’s style and the subject that preoccupies his head. He is concerned about the society that he lives in and the quirky people that is part of that society. He is interested in examining the psychology of these people and how these people live that led to the extraordinary events that happens. The criticism of the society and the people are always delivered with a mix of comedic sarcasm, drama and tragedy, and in the case of THE HOST, fantasy and science fiction.
The story centers around a college lecturer, Yun-ju (Lee Sung-jae), who is leading a rather sorry life. He is poor, has a nagging wife who is also pregnant and he realises that if he wants to be a professor, hard work alone is not enough. He has to bribe the Dean for that appointment. The problem is Yun-ju does not have that big amount of money to bribe the Dean even after convincing himself that giving money to buy that position is not morally wrong. How is he going to raise that cash?
In the midst of all these, there is a dog that barks and that annoyed him terribly. Despite the fact that one is not allowed to keep pets in the apartment, apparently no one gives a damn about that rule. And therefore, Yun-ju took the job up himself, kidnapping the dogs and silencing them without understanding the effect on the owners who lost their beloved dog. The consequences can be darn serious and he got a taste of his own medicine when his wife’s newly acquired pet dog went missing when he took it out for a walk. In a very well constructed and executed scene, we understand why the dog meant a lot to his wife and it’s now his turn to recover the lost dog to redeem his guilt.
Crossing his path is Hyeon Nam (played by the ever-oh-so-superb Bae Doo-na). Hyeon Nam is a clerk in the apartment maintenance department. She is a bored person whose job seems to only consist of stamping approvals on bulletins. The recent rise in the number of lost dog cases intrigued her and one day, she accidentally witnessed someone actually killing a dog. She then sets out in hunting down this dog murderer and when Yun-ju met her while looking for his lost dog, they became good friends. The thing is, of course, Hyeon Nam does not know that Yun-ju is the dog murderer. Anyways, this conflict was finally resolved as well, with an “all’s well ends well” ending.
There is one scene that suddenly jumps out on the unsuspecting audience and that is when Hyeon Nam went all out to save Yun-ju’s dog from the dog eater, we see a lot of yellow people suddenly cheering for her on the rooftops of other apartments. Of course, this is a fantasy in Hyeon Nam’s mind, that she is now a hero, something that she always wanted to be in her private times spent with her best friend (who I suspect loves her romantically as hinted by the director in a couple of nuanced scenes). There are also a couple of underground characters, the janitor and the beggar, that added to the uniqueness and richness of the story. This is indeed a grade A movie.
We therefore get a glimpse on the society through the lives of Yun-ju and Hyeon Nam: the corruption in Korean university system, the loneliness of people who has to depend on the company of their dog, the prejudice against women in the corporate world, the restless youth of the day but also the sense of morality and civic-mindedness, the Confucian tradition, that is still quite deeply ingrained in the Korean psyche. But then again, that is getting eroded day by day.
No dogs are harmed in the making of the movie.