Hong Kong, 2006, 109 minutes
Asian action film fans, the time to rejoice is almost upon you! The two-disc DVD of Dog Bite Dog is due to arrive on Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007. I was amazed by this film when I saw it at its New York Premiere at the New York Asian Film Festival early this past summer. I mentioned that the DVD was coming out in a previous ACF posting, and was lucky enough - as I'd hoped to be - to score an advance screening copy of the DVD. So I've had time to watch the film again and to check out the DVD extras.
And I'll tell you this: Dog Bite Dog is a fantastic action film that has been magnificently packaged and presented by Dragon Dynasty.
Edison Chen, in a remarkable breakthrough performance, stars as Pang, a brutal, savage and conscienceless Cambodian hit man. He's sent to Hong Kong to kill a lawyer. After he completes his mission, his escape is initially thwarted by Ti Wai, a police inspector played by Sam Lee, in a breakthrough performance of his own. Aided by a sweet, but mentally limited and abused young woman, (mainlander Weiying Pei, billed as Pei Pei in this, her first film!), Pang eventually is able to return to Cambodia, bringing her along. But Wai, who has seen all his colleagues, as well as some innocent civilians, viciously murdered by Pang, must avenge their deaths and goes to incredible extremes to do so.
This brief synopsis doesn't begin to convey the extreme and realistic violence that is portrayed in this film. It's no standard Hong Kong actioner with carefully choreographed fight scenes. It's down and dirty, in your face, gut-wrenching, bone-crushing, unforgiving, visceral violence. Sam Peckinpah would have been proud to have made this film.
Instead, it's director Cheang Pou-Soi to whom all praise is due for what he's done with a screenplay by Matt, Chow, Melvin Li, and Szeto Kam-yuen.
At the same time, it would be a mistake to think of his film only in terms of its graphic depiction of violence. At it's heart, Dog Bite Dog is a meditation on survival. And the performances of the two male leads are each tour de forces. Edison Chen's is perhaps the more remarkable in that he manages, using only expressions, gestures and body language, to convey the emergence of the human being that lurks inside a seeming automated killing machine.
The two disc set offers the film on one disc with Cantonese Dolby 5.1 or DTS soundtracks, an English-dubbed Dolby 5.1 soundtrack, and a feature length commentary soundtrack with star Edison Chen and Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan. I've only had a chance to listen to some of the commentary soundtrack, but what I heard was very interesting, and I'm looking forward to watching the film yet another time with this on.
Disc two is chock full of terrific extras. There are separate interviews with director Cheang, Edison Chen, Sam Lee, and co-star Lam Suet. These are not what I call MAS extras (MAS = Mutual Admiration Society). You know, actors and directors babbling about how working with one another was the greatest thing in their career. (At least since their last DVD interview and until their next one.) Little or nothing of substance.
The four Dog Bite Dog interviews are really solid, worthwhile watches. Director Cheang's is noteworthy for his describing his initial reluctance to cast Edison, but becoming convinced that he'd be right for the role, which certainly turned out to be the case. He's also pretty much on the mark when he talks about others being correct that the film could have ended when Pang and the girl escape from Hong Kong, but that if it had, no one would remember Dog Bite Dog. That's perhaps a bit of an overstatement, since the nature of the violence would have made it at least somewhat memorable. But Cheang is absolutely right that the final twenty minutes or so, which take place in Cambodia, take the film to a whole other level.
Edison's interview is the only one in English (the others are subtitled). It's amazing to listen to him: he's more articulate in English than many actors are for whom it's their primary language. He talks about the challenge of working outside his comfort range and having to "speak without speaking" since his character has almost no dialog until the last twenty minutes or so, and very little even then. In addition, whatever dialog he has is in Cambodian!
Sam Lee talks about making his first film in 1997, having worked with Dog Bites Dog's director on two earlier projects, and having previously done mainly silly comedies. As Wai, he gets to play a troubled cop who's been living with a horrible family secret for about a year, since his cop father was shot and went into a coma. Able to inflict violence on his own terms, his character is temporarily shocked by what he sees Pang do to others. Lee's cop goes through a truly amazing transformation over the course of the film.
Lam Suet, probably Hong Kong's best character actor, plays inspector "Fat" Lam, a cop who serves as an uncle figure to Wai. His interview is notable for his description of working on film production years ago and finally talking a director into giving him an opportunity to act. He also talks about how this film was such a breakthrough for Edison, whom he describes as previously being cast as "handsome, gentlemanly and romantic" characters.
There's also a separate behind-the scenes look at the making of the film. One segment of this includes a brief interview with actress Weiying Pei. To top things off, there's the U.S. promotional tailer.
Dog Bite Dog is a must see film and the two disc DVD set is a must have. The film gets a 4 out of 4 star ACF rating (highest recommendation). The packaging of so many worthwhile extras by Dragon Dynasty also warrants a 4 out f 4 star rating, the first time I've been moved to give a separate rating for DVD extras.
So get out on Tuesday and buy Dog Bite Dog, or at least rent it as soon as you can.