Finally we have before us a Category III movie for the summer 2006 season. Made of equal parts cruelty, crime and passion, Dog Bite Dog benefits not merely from an apt title, but also flexible direction, superb cinematography and respectable performances from most involved.
Of course there has to be a catch, manifested here in the form of several glaring inconsistencies, yet all told DBD represents the mature spirit we’d love to see more of in the HK mainstream.
It also marks the heralded return of Edison Chen, long absent since the Initial D debacle of a year ago. Chen’s reserved machismo does wonders for the movie, yet would have had it rough without opposite Sam Lee, whose knack for alternating between physical comedy (Crazy ‘N’ the City, No Problem 2) and lunatic menace has culminated in the strongest role we’ve seen from him since Made in Hong Kong.
Together, the duo makes Dog Bite Dog, and hopefully Edison’s going to get an easier break from now on as a consequence: his touch transformed projects from Princess D to the Infernal Affairs saga, and still he remains a rare occurrence.
Mostly upon commencing, DBD showcases some mesmerizing imagery, playing gorgeous tricks with light, shadow and perspective. The soundtrack boosts this atmospheric effect, adding to the overall unreal mood the film purveys. Much of the resultant combination probably has to do with writer Matt Chow, previously engaged in likewise gruesome Three Extremes. Dog Bite Dog retains numerous traits recalled from that horror project, namely rundown urbanscapes and a pervasive air of something eerie lurking round the corner.
Rest assured, though, this isn’t a horror movie, instead following a path trodden before by classic One Nite in Mongkok, albeit from a miles more perverse angle.
Replacing Daniel Wu’s reluctant mainland assassin character we have Edison, playing a nameless killing machine hailing from Cambodia’s underworld. Sent Hong Kong-way to execute a single target, the nearly silent assassin takes care of business immediately upon arrival, a process chillingly depicted courtesy of the film’s brilliant visuals.
Although weaned from childhood to become a professional killer, Edison’s eponymous wild dog still has human weaknesses and leaves a trail, picked up on by a CID team sent to investigate. This assembly features a nice cameo by mob-movie stalwart Lam Suet, and good support from TV star Wayne Lai. However, Sam Lee’s renegade officer Wai leads the charge, revealing himself to be a highly disturbed individual but excellent cop nonetheless. We gradually learn Wai’s inner-conflict stems from his father’s police corruption background, evoking demons handy in the relentless pursuit that ensues.
A minor body count transpires, as Edison seems to consider taking prisoners a no-no. There’s quite the violence quotient in store, even though gore per se feels toned down in places, and adult language only makes a token appearance. Once more, no nudity, leading one to conclude Cat III’s are being handed these days a bit hastily. Still, DBD’s a relatively mature theatrical release, and we applaud its arrival.
In between the fighting, stabbing , hacking and shooting, even a career murderer needs some romance, and just like Daniel Wu had Cecilia Cheung in One Nite, so does intrepid Mr. Chen get a sweetheart, done beautifully by new comer Pei Pei. Her unnamed character (lots of anonymity in this one) meets Edison’s at a strangely deserted landfill, abused by her father to the point of repulsive madness and yearning for escape.
When the killer ditches HK, he agrees to take her with him, and they go on the run together, love blooming en route. While the movie doesn’t linger on lovey-dovey stuff, our hearts go out to Pei Pei’s tragic character and her endless suffering. She renders the timid but valiant protagonist amazingly well, establishing that there aren’t any good or bad guys here, evinced by the highly sobering finale.
Director Cheang Soi’s protfolio includes recent suspense thriller Home Sweet Home and Love Battlefield with Eason Chan, two numbers likely surpassed in most accounts by Dog Bite Dog’s sinister demeanor. Cheang manages to keep DBD flowing throughout, and considering the many parts in play here, stands up to critical standards erected by people like Johnny To in his watershed nocturnal epic The Mission. A couple of glitches do come about, to wit Edison miraculously shrugging off a shot to the chest, but these are highly forgivable.
Marking triumphant returns for two young, talented performers of the kind Hong Kong needs if we want the city’s movie heyday to come back, Dog Bite Dog doesn’t stand out for story. Its forte lies in strong portrayals and style, buoyed along on the strength of thespian muscle and a keen eye for visual and auditory finesse.
HK has a long, time-honored tradition of stories to do with the city’s nighttime alter-ego, something Dog Bite Dog upholds lovingly, amounting to a solid run if not an outright masterpiece.
Rating: * * * *
Directed by Cheang Soi
Starring Sam Lee, Edison Chen, Pei Pei, Wayne Lai, Lam Ka Wah
2006, Cantonese, 100 minutes