Soi Cheang’s “Dog Bite Dog” – 2007 NYAFF Review

Soi Cheang’s searing film “Dog Bite Dog” is beyond grim. It paints a hellish, Hobbesian world where violence, brutality, and selfishness comprise the coin of the realm. The film’s concluding epigraph states it perfectly: “Creatures live at the expense of other creatures.”

“Dog Bite Dog” is a relentless and often gruesome illustration of the old saw about the sins of the fathers being visited on the sons. The film delineates both the childhoods and present conflicts of its two central characters. Wai (Sam Lee), an uncontrollable live-wire cop, obsessively pursues Cambodian immigrant Pang (Edison Chen) after he murders one of Wai’s colleagues in front of his eyes. The film draws parallels between their tortured family histories. Wai is haunted by memories of his father (Lam Kah Wah), also a cop, and his conflicted feelings toward his father, who lies in a coma after being shot. Pang grew up being treated exactly like a dog, tattooed with a number on his neck, raised to fight death matches for money and also being hired out as a contract killer.

Pang at one point comes upon Yue (Pei Wei Ying), a near-mute incest victim, living in a dilapidated shack on top of a landfill with her abusive father. Pang kills Yue’s father after witnessing him rape his daughter. She soon becomes his companion, which sets the stage for the violent conclusion, which contains a wicked twist, involving one of the central characters, which brings everything full circle. This vicious cycle becomes an endless loop, encompassing the living, the dead, and the newly born in its iron grip.

At first, it seems that Wai and Pang are on opposite sides of the moral divide, but it quickly becomes apparent that the truth is much more complicated. As the film progresses, it becomes clear that the enforcers of the law are just as brutal as the criminals, if not more so. This idea is in itself nothing new, but in Cheang’s hands, it becomes an almost unbearably intense experience. Dirt, grime, blood, and the debris of a massive landfill prevail. One winces as often as admires Cheang’s command of visuals and music. Much of the film is shot in odd, decanted angles that de-center the viewer and create a constant state of unsettledness. The unusual soundtrack includes ambient electronic music, a funereal male choir and off-screen barking dogs. The sleek Hong Kong metropolis is absent here; in its place are dank, putrid environments and a vision of humanity similar to that of the apes at the beginning of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

“Dog Bite Dog” will screen at the Subway Cinema New York Asian Film Festival on Tues., July 3. For tickets, go to