Dog Bite Dog (2006)

Directed by: Soi Cheang
Written by: Matt Chow, Szeto Kam-Yuen & Lee Chun-Fai
Producers: Yoneyama Shin & Sam Leong
Starring: Edison Chen, Sam Lee, Eddie Cheung, Pei Pei Wai-Ying, Wayne Lai, Lam Suet & Lam Ka-Wah

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Nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2007:
Best New Artist (Pei Pei Wai-Ying)

Nomination at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards 2006:
Best Actor (Sam Lee)

A ruthless Cambodian assassin (Edison Chen - Gen-Y Cops, Princess-D) boards Hong Kong island to carry out his mission. After brutally murdering his designated target, a middle aged woman, the police move in for their investigation, in particular young hot-head Ti Wai (Sam Lee - Made In Hong Kong). Sniffing out the killer in no time, this starts an escalating, bloody battle where everyone is expendable...

Creating hype around his name with a larger mass via the surprising and uncompromising Love Battlefield in 2004, Soi Cheang's path as a horror filmmaker finally began to show signs again, akin to his early DV/35 mm venture Diamond Hill (1*), that here was someone not pleased with sticking to the recommended recipe. The not so hyped Home Sweet Home showcased this more than ever before, even though the overall experience rightfully didn't make as much of an impression. But if you arm yourself with a Category III rating, deep rooted pessimism with a violent streak, you're bound to receive attention again. Soi Cheang therefore made sure to employ writer Szeto Kam-Yuen (Love Battlefield, Expect The Unexpected) again for Dog Bite Dog. Aiming for validation as cinema by going astonishingly dark and downbeat on us, that's an artform few handles well. Soi Cheang isn't quite there yet but he isn't wrong to express his views, this time perhaps at his crescendo in that regard. By god, we hope so and that next film will be all cute teddy bears to go around for everyone. Then again the darkness of our world doesn't stop so....yipes. At any rate, Dog Bite Dog is a vicious statement, one that will be sneered at automatically like any opinion divided subject but no doubt this can be called compelling, thematically sound and a pure injection of distinction Hong Kong cinema is in need of. Well it should be called all those things.

On a personal note, been going through my old collection of death metal and in particular the sub genre grindcore and it seems fitting that this lyric from "Buried Dreams" by Carcass will lead you into my dissection of Dog Bite Dog:

"Welcome to a world of hate. A life of buried dreams. Smothered, by the soils of fate."

Now that we're all feeling perky, while not the most shocking, graphic and/or intensity-wise Hong Kong cinema has ever produced (that award goes to Billy Tang's Red To Kill), Soi Cheang's visualization of Matt Chow, Szeto Kam-Yuen & Lee Chun-Fai's screenplay makes for reviewing delight in terms of how you'll describe it as graphically as you can (basically looking for the better looking review quote). Glass comes to mind, the equivalent of being forced fed it into your mouth and up your ass. It doesn't sit very comfortably but it's the truth of the moment. You'll just have to push your instincts towards survival and this cinematic world where the quote unquote goodness usually is absent will suck more than anything has ever sucked before in terms of portrayal. But this notion comes from a real life era where nothing is certain or to be honest, every era has had some kind of worldly turmoil that takes shape into pessimism such as this. This is possibly the writers and Soi Cheang's hidden confession but the thematic of the film leans more towards something more emotional than political.

Cinematographer Fung Yuen-Man's visuals are distorted, cracked, devoid of people and the cheery rainbow colours (brown dominates and yes, it can be regarded as downright feces-like in nature). In this framework, you'll find two characters, one who is an Cambodian assassin trained to be emotionally numb, only going where his master tells him and one young cop with repressed inner hate towards his corrupt father in the same line of work. Yes, you've sensed correctly that here's where the dog symbolism rears its head and while probably never saying anything truly profound that lingers ten floors above what's flashed before us on screen, it works to a pretty good degree. Although the overly conscious sound design featuring animal sounds can be tiring and pretentious but despite, true complexity doesn't interest Cheang. His statements are clear, simplistic even and he's running them along his character drama, which turns out to be minor but effective to a useful degree. A heart may be revealed in both Edison and Sam's characters but anyone should be prepared that light is in need to be smothered in this world. Maybe not instantly but definitely later. Better points made regards newcomer Pei Pei's illegal immigrant character who probably comes from the lowest point of any of us, something Cheang isn't afraid to push to the most extreme degree possible. A victim of incest and living on a garbage dump, her angel is Chen's character, making us realize how far down we've gone into the human state. It's in its own way heartfelt because if your mission is to rise, you have to start wherever light shines on you....before it's smothered again.

Wise choices narrative-wise (but also technically) concerns the lack of dramatic intensity in the score for the most harrowing scenes of gore and violence. Simply enough, impact reigns supreme via this choice and it's the interludes in between that takes the bombastic route (employing angelic choirs quite often), usually with effective results. Following his instinct all the way through, there's not much to the story and narrative we're supposed to take in but instead the background thematic of emotional awakening. However there's stumblings over that in the late stages as Cheang is just a little bit too confident in his way of creating poignancy. Basically caught up in his extreme behaviour.

The last two words in that paragraph being applicable to our lead performances by Edison "Dawg" Chen and Sam Lee. Chen comes through with his finest performance yet, working with little dialogue in order to truly embody the hungry dog at one end of the ring corner. Just goes to show that if you make a so called actor shut the hell up, cinema may benefit and that's not a disservice to anyone here, including Chen. Even if this will be his only, alongside Princess-D, immersing act, it's no doubt memorable. Sam Lee as the sniffing dog gets to levels of acceptance and a few notches above it as well, being well in tune with the one-sided, extremely violent nature to his character but latching onto our emotions when that character-wall is broken.

Nothing is ever suggested that, despite breakthrough in that regard, correct routes will be taken. You come back to instincts, rational or not, and that dominates on- and off screen in Dog Bite Dog. Human lives don't matter, consequences rarely and barely do either. The little humanity shown here is even somewhat buried under gleeful evil but these are almost up till the end, correct statement by the filmmakers. Trying to believe that end statement ultimately may make you lost along the way but even if you don't discover, take Dog Bite Dog as an awakening and be glad your world doesn't suck as hard. Because I pray to god it doesn't. Same with Soi Cheang's who continues to be an exciting engine for Hong Kong cinema. The fact that his name is now associated with hype, rightfully, should tell you what a benefactor he is right now.

The DVD:

Joy Sales presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with anamorphic enhancement. Featuring just a few notches too much dirt considering it's a new film, the conscious drab, sometimes grainy and sedated look as intended seems replicated to a fine degree here.

Sound options are Cantonese (with some passages in Cambodian) Dolby Digital 5.1, Cantonese DTS 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 but as I'm not equipped with such a system, my assessment of this disc aspect will be left off this review.

The English subtitles are free from errors of the obvious kind and thankfully also translates written signs throughout. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

Available in single and double disc editions, one aspect they share are the supplements found on the feature disc. Aside from trailers for Duel To The Death, Lethal Ninja and My Name Is Fame, we get an audio commentary (in Cantonese but with the same subtitle options as the movie) featuring director Soi Cheang, co-producer Sam Leong (also a director in his own right, most notably the recent Explosive City), the dvd supervisor known only as William as well as invited fans Ah Zip, Fayecat, Ryan and LittleSam. Presumably online names then but also not particularly big fans of the movie or its director (aside from one who has the good taste to name drop Diamond Hill towards the end). This creates a very odd and sometimes entertaining atmosphere as the director has to take on not only basic, inane questions but to honestly defend his work, something the good-spirited Soi Cheang gladly does without going bitter on us. Criticisms includes sound design, acting and the often debated ending.

Otherwise this well-flowing track covers good ground including working with the actors to get them to extreme levels, Sam Leong pointing out references to movies Soi Cheang perhaps unconsciously was channeling, working with the script across the writing team, deleted scenes, themes, character actions and one of the more highlighted items; the poor box-office reception in Hong Kong. The filmmakers show good awareness of what they were heading into, making an extreme film not suited for a general audience as well as turning down co-operation from China to avoid restrictions on their content. It's clear they are supporting local films and want support for local films but also like many other productions are looking for revenues overseas, including Japan. The subtitle translation ranges from good to barely coherent at times but overall this aspect of the track presents little problems.

(Left, Soi Cheang directing actors Eddie Cheung and Pei Pei Wai-Ying. Right, Matt Chow and Lam Suet)

The trailer for Dog Bite Dog opens the second disc and after making your subtitle choice in the set-up menu, first option Cut Lost Memories reveals a deleted scenes-reel lasting 8 minutes and 6 seconds. Largely extensions are contained in the 6 scenes at hand here though, including some superfluous events leading up to Edison Chen arriving at the restaurant, the cops detailing just how much Ti Wai cut loose on the taxi station among other things. A more mysterious introduction to the final reel plot twist was probably rightfully deleted but it's an interesting inclusion here because Cheang keeps us well in the dark despite. A documentary throwback sandwiched in between the Cambodia "romance" montage remains a mystifying concept though but as Joy Sales neglected to translate the on-screen text within this extension, its validity I'll remain open about.

Give Me Another Change (9 minutes, 9 seconds) gives a us a peek at shooting various scenes, including in the restaurant. This gives a small but interesting look into the physical strain of this particular production and the repetitious nature of filmmaking. NG Shots (1 minute, 34 seconds) follows immediately after, showcasing nothing amusing in the mistakes and flubbed lines on display.

My 2nd Language (3 minutes, 56 seconds) provides a lighthearted look at the English, Thai and Cambodian dialogue the various cast members had to learn to pronounce. Co-writer Matt Chow turns up and specifically coaches Lam Suet in preparation for his English lines. Photo Gallery (19 images) lets you have a temporary breather from the video supplements and contains the often dark, grimy movie stills that nicely set the tone for the film. The Funniest Video (17 minutes, 18 seconds) doesn't take itself too seriously but it's not just random silliness. Simply enough a pleasant look at the wait between filming and the often cheerful interaction between cast & crew.

(Left, happy times for Sam Lee and Soi Cheang. Right, Edison Chen on set)

The longest of the 2nd disc supplements is My View To The Film (66 minutes, 46 seconds). Still being less of a structured program and more like a video diary, Sam Lee does occasionally act as host while we also watch behind the scenes footage of the script being re-written on the spot, stunt work, how shooting can turn frustrating and creating the action choreography. Nice if not totally insightful stuff but some pieces are better than others. For instance we get an uninterrupted sight of Soi Cheang talking narrative with Edison Chen and the latter also sits down for a lengthy interview, talking about his career and aspirations. Chen as it turns out is a very modest, balanced guy and definitely comes off as someone wanting to improve in this field rather than being a pop star that happens to be doing movies. Short premiere footage at the end concludes the program.

The very last featurette called Battlefield (2 minutes, 56 seconds) sounds like it has a focus but is devoid of any. The crew expresses feelings of being in danger on a certain set and the finishing images concerns the opening ceremony of the shoot! In your dvd package you'll also find two postcards with stills from the movie.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson

(1) The credits Horror Hotline...Big Head Monster, New Blood and The Death Curse made sure to create that path of horror genre filmmaking.