Dog Bite Dog Review
In the world of hit man thrillers there are now so many clichés that the audience for these films has become undemanding or jaded. I'd count myself in the latter of these two categories, and facing a new thriller from Hong Kong like Dog Bite Dog, I had prepared my usual comments about Melville or John Woo doing it so much better in Le Samourai or The Killer. Twenty minutes into Dog Bite Dog something happened and I found that my concerns floated away.
Pang is sent from Cambodia to kill a judge's wife which he does effectively and without fuss. When the Police arrive at the crime scene, Detective Wai notices a taxi and follows it to the waiting Pang. Pang runs and holds a hostage in a café, whom he kills along with Wai's partner before giving himself up. Pang escapes custody and a man hunt begins with Wai being followed by Internal Affairs who witness his brutality as he chases Pang. Holding out at a shack in a rubbish dump Pang meets a young woman after he has killed her abusive father. She helps Pang escape Wai and a bond is formed for the dispassionate killer which will enable Wai to complicate Pangs escape. Wai will use whatever methods he can to stop this "mad dog", but is he as different from this killer as he thinks?
What hooked me in to Dog Bite Dog was its ambition. Rather than just entertain its audience with great car chases and cops and criminals, it tries to say something about human beings and what makes them. More specifically, it takes its two central characters and uses them to show the effect of the world on them and the unfathomable influence of fathers. One character has grown up worshipping his cop father only to discover that the truth is less honourable in his relatively affluent world, and the other has grown up in the margins of a poverty stricken Cambodia where you fight for yourself. Both have bad fathers, both are compelled to do what they do and both achieve little other than destruction.
Dog Bite Dog is certainly not family entertainment and the brutality is continuous throughout the movie. Stabbings, shootings, nails through the foot, and torture occur but this is justified through the strong drama of the story. The cinematography is grimy and industrial for the world of Hong Kong and parched and earthy for the scenes set in Cambodia. The direction is cool, tight, and mannered but the effect created always suits the action. The actors are good with Edison Chen following up his turn in Infernal Affairs 2 with a fine performance as the killer who develops a heart. He is emotionally still and desperately athletic and counterpoints well with Sam Lee who is more of an open wound as Wai. Pei Pei is desperately touching as Pang's love and her character is much like the heroes of pathos that Kim Ki-Duk specialises in. This didactic approach to the thriller is rather pleasing and even if the world it shows is a nihilistic wasteland, Dog Bite Dog has time for love and loyalty on the way.
Joy Sales have released the film in one and two disc sets. The two disc set comes with a robust box sleeve and two postcards featuring scenes from the film. The first disc has the main feature and a trailer for the film. The feature is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic wide-screen and the look is sharp, and well balanced in colour terms. The print shows odd marks and minor wear, it is also a very dark movie but the contrast levels are well managed. The audio is presented in three surround options and sounds fine with the DTS track giving depth to some of the atmospheric moments and dimension to the chase sequences. Actions speak louder than words here and the audio captures the rhythms of the silence as well as the explosions of the carnage.
The extras are mostly on-set footage, provided as behind-the-scenes featurettes on language coaching, sets on location, and out-takes. These really don't add much to the experience of watching the film whereas some background on the decision to include the Cambodian angle would have been useful, while some greater insight into the morality of the tale would have suited me better. During the hour-long behind the scenes featurette, Sam Lee and Edison Chen speak about the director with Chen very polite and Lee playful and critical. Generally their comments are rather throwaway. Similarly, the deleted scenes add little to the film and the bloopers are simply some larking around from a cast which does seem to be enjoying itself. All of the extras come with English subtitles even the director’s commentary, which is a kind of Q&A with the director and producer responding to points raised by their invited audience. A lot of what gets said is a tad prosaic and Cheang seems more interested in the practical side of things than the artistic. He puts the poor box office in Hong Kong down to the deeper meaning of the film, and he talks about discovering Pei Pei in commercials and of encouraging Edison Chen to act enigmatically. It isn't riveting stuff and having to read subtitles for a commentary is quite distracting anyway, especially when they are grammatically inelegant like the translation here.
The transfer here is good and the availability of English subs throughout this set make it a fine purchase. You may want to consider whether the extras here are so essential that you want this edition rather than the cheaper single disc version, my feeling would be to go for the single disc release. Whatever you decide, Dog Bite Dog is certainly worth your time and money.