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May 21, 2018

Barking Dogs Never Bite

by Franz Patrick


Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000)
★★ / ★★★★

While expressing to his friend over the telephone that he feels he might not cut it as a professor, Yoon-ju (Sung-jae Lee) becomes increasingly annoyed by a dog’s incessant barking. He lives in an apartment where dogs are not allowed and he is angry that tenants are unable to follow a simple rule. So, he takes the dog that he thinks is making all the ruckus, goes on the roof, and holds the animal out as to let it fall. He hesitates. It might get messy. With the dog in his arms, they go in the basement. Yoon-ju hangs it by the neck. It struggles. Will he go through it this time or will he come up with a more cruel way to kill it?

The first thing we are presented with is a notice that no animal is harmed in the making of the film. A dog struggling for oxygen because its airways are obstructed is so convincing, I flinched and was genuinely worried about the animal after having had a laughing fit due to the protagonist’s brazenness to take someone else’s pet as if it were a pen to be purloined. The picture is supposed to be comedic and it is at times executed with elegance.

Particularly strong is the first half as the camera follows Yoon-ju, so desperate to get tenure that he contemplates of bribing the dean, taking out his frustrations on the dogs. It is a classic case of a man feeling like he has no control over where his life is heading and so he attempts to gain control of what he believes to be of lesser value, not realizing, for instance, that a dog may be considered as a family member by its owner.

Underneath Yoon-ju’s ordinary and harmless appearance is an unrealized insanity. The longer we spend time with him, the clearer it becomes that he is a little off and perhaps dangerous. After all, if he can hurt an animal, what else is he capable of? We look warily at his pregnant and nagging wife.

It takes too much time for its two main strands to meet. Hyun-nam (Doona Bae) works as a bookkeeper adjacent to the apartment complex. She notices that, within a span of a week or so, more people are coming in to xerox flyers about missing dogs. The picture runs longer than it should because too many scenes are dedicated to Hyun-nam and Eun-sil (Ho-jung Kim). We watch them hang out but they neither say or do something remotely as interesting as Yoon-ju. When the camera is on them, the screenplay is stagnant.

There are a few more morbid humor sprinkled throughout. A character I found to be very funny is the janitor who likes to cook in the basement. Trust me when I say you would not want to try his stew. There is also a homeless man who lives down there. I was surprised that the writers, Joon-ho Bong, Ji-ho Song, and Derek Son Tae-woong, have found a way to tie this character neatly into the story. I did not expect him to be more than a joke that involves the janitor and his favorite food.

I am certain that “Flandersui age,” also known as “Barking Dogs Never Bite,” “A Higher Animal,” and “Dog of Flanders,” has a sense of humor that will not appeal to everybody, especially those who love dogs and do not want to see them in pain—even if it is simulated. Its main problem lies in the structure: by disallowing Hyun-nam to really get into the meat of investigation early on, a strong heroine, one that we know well, is not established. I found myself not caring if she would make it to the end.

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