English Title: Barking Dogs Never Bite
Original Title: Flandersui gae
Country: South Korea
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Derek Son Tae-woong
Music: Jo Sung-woo
The disclaimer in the opening reassures us that no dogs are abused in the making of South Korean cinema kingpin Bong Joon-ho’s mordant debut feature, however, in second-guessing, it also bears out Bong’s tendency of tackling shocking subject matters as we are neither spared with the simulacrum of cute dogs (a Shih Tzu and a chihuahua, respectively) being hung by a rope or dropped dead from the roof of a building, nor a spine-tingling verbalized hearsay that paints a grisly picture in one’s mind, told by Byun Hee-bong, a familiar face among Bong’s filmography.
Yet for all intents and purposes, BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE retains a tongue-in-cheek sarcasm and poker-faced jocularity in its core. Ko Yun-ju (Lee Sung-jae) is a university docent who aspires for a professor position to secure his livelihood and earn respect from his henpecking pregnant wife Eun-sil (Kim Ho-jung), a barking dog dwelling in his cookie-cutter apartment building becomes his latest pet peeve, and he has (little) qualms to ascertain the yelping stops, although mistaken identify is par for the course and brings him in a close cat-and-mouse chase (executed with neat exuberance) with Park Hyun-nam (Doona), a valiant bookkeeper inadvertently witnesses his horrible act,
Granted, Yun-ju’s casual animal cruelty can be construed as a desperate outlet for a shiftless man’s smothered self-regard, and Bong’s piquant societal critique of a young generation disoriented by acedia finds a contrasting light in Hyun-nam, who pulls her back into rescuing a kidnapped dog (with Bong’s fantastical flourish accentuating her derring-do on the rooftop) which belongs to Eun-sil, and whose wet-behind-her-ear carriage induces a therapeutic affinity that gingers up Yun-ju’s impasse and accelerates his mounting guilt, but Bong has no stomach for tacky romance, their paralleled paths only converge tentatively before life catches them up in their separated, designated routes. Under a semblance of inscrutability, the ending augurs well for Bong’s directorial voyage, tempering its earthbound conformity with a soupçon of arch resignation, barking dogs might never bite, but Bong proves to be a quieter but more mischievous one with acumen of hitting some raw nerves when he sees fit.