Flandersui Gae (A Dog of Flanders/Barking Dogs Never Bite) (Joon-ho Bong, 2000)
Joon-ho Bong has developed into one of Korea’s most popular directors both at home and overseas, first with The Host, the highest-grossing Korean film of all time, and then with Mother, one of the most critically-acclaimed Korean films of all time. But he had a career, and a durned good one, long before coming up with either of those flicks; his second movie, Memories of Murder, is actually my favorite of his flicks, and while it didn’t really gain notoriety outside Korea until after he’d gotten big for his other movies, his debut feature, Flandersui Gae (known in English-speaking countries both as A Dog of Flanders and Barking Dogs Never Bite), was a pretty big hit back in the day. If you know Bong’s later work, there’s not going to be a good deal here that will surprise you—it’s got that patented Bong mix of madcap mystery, uncomfortable humor, broad-spectrum ineptitude on the part of his endearing characters, and a sharp, witty script that brings it all together in a pleasurable way.
Plot: Yun-ju (Attack the Gas Station!‘s Sun-jae Lee) is a college lecturer who’s trying to achieve a professorship in a corrupt culture—it seems to be standard operating procedure for lecturers at his school who want to become professors to “gift” the dean with ten thousand bucks. Problem is, lecturers make peanuts, so where’s he going to get that kind of money? As if that’s not enough, somewhere in his large, faceless apartment block there’s a yappy little dog who refuses to shut up. Yun-ju finds himself driven to extremes—once he has identified the beast, he kidnaps it. When he finds he can’t bring himself to kill it, he locks it in a cabinet in the basement. When the missing-dog posters start going up, posted by both the dog’s young owner and Hyeon-nam (Spring Bears Love‘s Doona Bae), an interested bookkeeper from the local tax office who had to give the posters an official stamp to make sure the cops didn’t take them down, Yun-ju realizes he’s got himself a case of mistaken identity—but when he goes to set the pooch free, it’s gone…
And this kicks off a series of misadventures that has the movie careering wildly between missing-dog mystery (animal lovers beware, there are a few scenes you may find uncomfortable despite the large, prominently-displayed title card at the beginning stating that no animals were harmed during the making of the film), romantic comedy, and Richard Linklater-style slacker drama, with the odd action sequence here and there just to keep the viewer on his or her toes. Like Memories of Murder, the end result seems somewhat directionless, and that does seem a bit more of a problem here than it is in Memories of Murder. But not much more; this movie is still a great deal of fun, as well as being quite technically accomplished for it being the director’s feature debut. If you’re a Joon-ho Bong fan who’s never gotten the chance to check this one out, it may not quite measure up to Bong’s later efforts, but it’s still a pretty good time. ***
Trailer. (It does give away one of the movie’s funniest gags, be warned.) You may THINK you want subs, but that’s just cultural conditioning!