Although many Hong Kong thrillers like to style themselves as being gritty and nihilistic, “Dog Bite Dog” is one of the few with the guts to actually follow through on such claims, being one of the darkest and brutal films of the last few years. As such, it marks a change for director Soi Cheang, previously known for light horror outings such as “Home Sweet Home” and “The Death Curse”, though he certainly takes the subject matter between his teeth and succeeds in producing a film which cuts like a knife through the glossy, choreographed violence usually seen in the genre.
The film begins with a Cambodian assassin named Pang (Edison Chen, “The Grudge 2”) arriving in Hong Kong to kill the wife of a top judge. The deed done, he finds himself pursued by the police, including Way (Sam Lee), a detective who is clearly suffering from his own mental problems. Alone and unable to speak the language, Pang fights back like a trapped animal, killing most of Way’s team and hiding in the only place he feels comfortable, a rubbish dump where he meets a young girl (Pie Weir Ying) held prisoner by her abusive father. Meanwhile, Way’s desire for revenge pushes him over the edge, and casting aside the shackles of his job, he hunts Pang down, leading the two men into a series of desperate and increasingly violent confrontations.
“Dog Bite Dog” is relentless from its opening scenes, which unfold with some shocking violence that immediately goes against viewer expectations and sets the mood for what is to come. Although the plot is simple, it provides director Soi with a perfect framework for an exploration of man as an animal, allowing ample opportunities for the characters to descend further and further into hell as they gradually strip each other of their humanity. Whilst this is a theme which has been tackled before, for example in Jet Li’s “Danny the Dog”, it is dealt with here in a far more realistic manner, throwing a harsh though all too believable light on just how far people will go to survive, and how hatred and revenge can consume and transform the soul.
Clearly, this is a film without heroes of any kind, with neither protagonist following any kind of redemptive path, and though both do have tragic histories, Soi does not dwell upon these in sentimental fashion. There are a few strangely touching moments scattered throughout, mostly involving Pang’s truly wretched girlfriend, though more than anything these serve to add a touch of tragedy, which makes the ensuing carnage all the more effective. Thankfully, both Chen and Lee are excellent in their roles, successfully overcoming their usual heartthrob and comic images and adding a vital layer of depth to their characters.
The film is exceedingly brutal, and certainly earns its category III rating. Fittingly, there is little in the way of gunplay or flashy martial arts, with most of the violence coming as the characters beat, bludgeon and even bite each other to death, with Soi sparing none of the grisly details. Even during its quieter moments, of which there are few, the film is horribly tense, with a sense of barely contained savagery that the viewer knows all too well could erupt at any moment. This gives the proceedings an air of unpredictability, forcing the viewer to share the protagonists’ feelings of desperation and paranoia.
Soi’s direction is excellent, portraying Hong Kong as a filth strewn wasteland, employing a dull, grey palette that robs the city of its usual brash vibrancy and gives it the feeling of a long neglected tomb. Indeed, the film as a whole has a funerary air, an impression helped by the sombre choral soundtrack. With so much of it taking place in rubbish dumps or trash filled back alleys, there are times when the viewer can almost smell the film, adding another level of unpleasant realism. Soi directs with a naturalistic approach, with a great use of light and shadow, and this too serves to make the action horribly convincing.
“Dog Bite Dog” is certainly not a film for the faint of heart, or those expecting a traditional Hong Kong police thriller. Pulling no punches and offering no false hopes, it stands as a bold and bloody film which grabs the viewer by the throat right from the start and keeps on choking even after the credits have rolled, making it a must see for all fans of challenging cinema.
Pou-Soi Cheang (director) / Matt Chow (screenplay)
CAST: Edison Chen …. Pang
Sam Lee …. Wai
Ka Wah Lam …. Pang’s dad