Dog Bite Dog

During the running time of this film it feels as if director Cheang Pou-soi takes a rusty corroded razor and slowly runs it along the bottom of your foot making a nasty ugly incision. And just when you think the pain is over with he begins on your toes. In this unremittingly bleak and grim story, he continues his exploration of the dark ferocious side of the human psyche that he hinted at in “New Blood” (2002), “Love Battlefield" (2004) and "Home Sweet Home" (2005). But those films don’t come close to approaching the brutal and nihilistic depths of “Dog Bite Dog”. In the world he paints there is no light and no redemption – only savagery in which the human race survives through violence – a world in which a kind act is met with a knife in your throat – a world in which the simple and most common act of eating can be ended suddenly in the flash of a bullet to your head. No one is safe. No one survives in the end. We are all part of the food chain.

A Cambodian hitman named Pang (Edison Chen) is hired to come to Hong Kong to kill a woman lawyer. He was trained with a number of other orphans to become assassins by pitting them against one another inside a cage where they fought to the death – the ones who are still alive when they become adults are single-minded killers with no regards to life and have no hesitation in killing. His target is in a restaurant having dinner, but first he gorges on food before calmly going over to her table and shooting her point blank in the head three times. He grabs a steaming dumpling on his way out.

The police soon arrive and among them is Wai (Sam Lee) who isn’t held in high regards by his supervisor for his surly and disrespectful manner. His partner (Lam Suet) tries to cover for him, but other than the fact that Wai’s father is also a cop he would have been kicked off the force long ago. But he has good cop instincts. He quickly follows a hunch and tracks the killer down to a small cheap eatery, but in the ensuing melee his partner gets knifed and a few diners are killed – and in the end Pang escapes. Much of the remainder of the film is simply the police chasing after this killer – but they simply are unable to adapt to or comprehend his remorseless murderous personality. Wai breaks off on his own to track the man down and becomes completely obsessive and brutal in his search as he leaves behind him a trail of viciously beaten bodies.

Two other threads are woven into this basic story – Wai’s father is in a coma after being shot and Internal Affairs is investigating – and it is Wai’s difficult relationship with his father that drives his maniacal behavior – the other thread is oddly a romance. Pou-soi perversely plays around here with one of the touchstones of Hong Kong film – the romantic assassin and the woman they fall for and who becomes their soft spot of vulnerability. Pang comes across his soft spot when he seeks refuge in a hut in a garbage strewn landfill and witnesses her being sexually abused by her father. The woman is nearly mentally challenged but after killing the father, Pang takes a liking to her and her to him and they decide to go to Cambodia together. Even more strangely, this freakish relationship manages to draw in your sympathy as the two of them find love for the first time in their barren cruel lives.

The film never pauses for a moment but is a tense dark head hammering experience from the beginning to its mouth agape “only in Hong Kong” over the top ending. On occasion Pou-soi shows some puckish humor such as his choice of song during the gore finale – “You are My Sunshine”- but be prepared for an assault on your senses and many moments of involuntary wincing. It’s a terrific piece of filmmaking on many levels – cinematography, music, editing, atmosphere and yes – even acting – but it is by no means a film that is easy to enjoy. It is like being face to face with a cobra for 90-minutes waiting for it to strike. Speaking of acting – Sam Lee who has of late often been relegated to secondary or goofy roles takes this one in his teeth and burns with an intensity that he hasn’t shown since his early efforts. It is hard to judge the performance of Edison and I worry that I am not always fair to him – but he is certainly serviceable as the monotone blank faced killer and thankfully there was no opportunity for his “dawg” like English. Whether another actor could have brought deeper levels to this character is difficult to say – but perhaps in his corner is the fact that when the two opponents face off in the end you really feel conflicted as to how you want the film to end.

My rating for this film: 7.5