Bong Joon Ho’s first feature, BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE, which flopped, arguably has more in common with his superhit PARASITE than any of the films in between, though he’s certainly an ideal auteur in terms of both stylistic and thematic consistency. This one is about class, too.

It’s kind of a “network narrative,” but the discreet plot threads turn out to be woven into a tight plot.

There’s a graduate who ought to have become a professor but hasn’t greased the right palm. Also his pregnant wife bullies him and he’s driven crazy by barking dogs in his neighbourhood, leading to a covert campaign of canicide.

There’s an office girl who wants to be a media hero.

Actually, those are the main strands, really. They seem separate, but they keep brushing together without quite intertwining. But there really are two protagonists, though one is also the villain, or at least an antihero. Both are trying to get somewhere and using the wrong methods, but the film’s great grace note is to reward the villain, ignore the heroine, but allow her to be happy and him not. It’s now sort of a familiar Bong trope, giving with one hand and taking away with several others, allowing for an ending which seems hopeful — isn’t depressing — but the uplift crumbles when you hold it to the light. Think about the hero’s masterplan at the end of PARASITE…

I imagine this one didn’t do well since it shows quite a lot of bad stuff happening to cute dogs, to the extent that the Korean equivalent of the Humane Association seal of approval appears right at the start. If not for that, we might not have been able to stomach it, and one still finds oneself wondering HOW they achieved, for instance, the suspension of a Peke by its collar and leash, without at least distressing the poor pooch. And then, Bong also violates Hitchcock’s dictum about not threatening the audience with a bad thing, then allowing it to happen. He doesn’t let us off the hook, which might be his own dictum, actually.

Amazing bit where, during her heroic act, a whole tribe of doppelgangers appears, lining the rooftops, cheering our heroine on. They’re a fantasy, of course. Sort of her fantasy, but not quite. They’re not presented as her POV, she doesn’t notice them, and we can’t quite imagine her taking the time to dream them up during her life-and-death struggle. So it’s as if they’re the film’s fantasy on her behalf, or something.

The film also contains a ghost story, recounted by a pretty unreliable narrator, which crashes into the main narrative at the very end, triggering a delightful ah-hah! and a bone-chilling uh-oh at the same instant. Bong’s good at those, isn’t he?

One Response to “Hangdog”

  1. ehrenstein47 Says:

    The shot at the top is remindful of “Eclipse”

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