Who hasn’t had an incessantly barking dog keep him or her awake at night? While Americans might simply pull the pillow tighter around our ears, in Korea, said noisy canine runs the risk of being the main ingredient in the next day’s stew. At least, that’s the implication in Bong Joon-ho’s offbeat, some will say mean-spirited black comedy, “Barking Dogs Never Bite.”
Yoon-ju (Lee Sung-jæ) is an underachieving college lecturer who’s halfheartedly trying to scrape up the necessary funds to bribe the dean into promoting him to professor. Practicing for his upcoming role as Mr. Mom while his very pregnant — and even bitchier — wife works all day, Yoon-ju spends most of each day at home. When a dog begins yapping incessantly from an unknown apartment, he sets off on a mission to kill the offending mutt. Not being an expert in canine-ocide, however, he’s soon stalking all dogs in general.
That’s where Hyun-nam comes in. A bored secretary in the apartment supervisor’s office, she takes a more active interest in the growing number of missing dogs with each resident who comes in asking her to photocopy their “Missing Dog” flyers. When, by chance, she catches a glimpse of Yoon-ju hurling an elderly resident’s pooch off the rooftop, she vainly sets off in pursuit.
But when Yoon-ju accidentally loses the puppy his domineering wife bought, not knowing she lives with a canine-killer, there’s hell to pay at home. In an ironic twist of fate, he desperately enlists Hyun-nam’s assistance in tracking down the detested pooch in order to save his marriage and any remaining chance to gain his promotion.
This film is certain to enrage PETA-philes everywhere. Even I have to admit that fond memories of my old pals Bozo, Hobo, and Chewbacca made this film pretty hard to sit through at times. I can’t explain why it’s hysterical to watch an anvil crush Wile E. Coyote’s head, yet revolting to watch Yoon-ju chuck a dog off a rooftop. It just is…unless you happen to be a cat lover, I suppose. And sure, it’s hypocritical to complain about eating a dog when hamburgers go down just fine. Then again, we don’t teach our cows to fetch or let them lick us in the face, either.
All squeamishness aside, this just isn’t a very pleasant film in general. There’s not a single sympathetic character in the bunch, except for maybe Hyun-nam and she’s a lazy bore. Everyone else is just plain, well, mean. For all the brilliance in some of its action scenes, this sluggish flick feels like a stretched out graduate thesis film.
Director Bong Joon-ho’s film unquestionably addresses a number of Korean social issues that will most likely flow over an American audience’s heads; subjects like the rampant corruption in the Korean higher educational system and the unspoken social stratification that merely having the ability to own a dog implies.
Although “Barking Dogs Never Bite” allows its characters to earn at least some partial redemption, it falls short nonetheless in the end. The attempted social commentary and the nervous titters it earns from a squirming audience simply aren’t worth the cruelty it gleefully depicts.
Bottom line; its main character kills man’s best friend.