Director: Bong Joon-ho

Runtime:1h 48m

Cast: Lee Sung-Jae, Bae Doona, Kim Ho-Jung, Byun Hee-Bong, Ko Su-Hee, Kim Roe-Ha, Kwon Hyuk-Poong, Kim Jin-Goo, Sung Jeong-Seon

Synopsis: An out-of-work college lecturer becomes so annoyed by the yapping dogs at his apartment complex that he decides to take drastic action.


Acclaimed South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho [Memories of Murder (2003); Snowpiercer (2013); Parasite (2019)] has re-released his debut film Barking Dogs Never Bite after twenty years.

An unsentimental blackest-of-black comic satire, it was filmed two decades before Bong’s acclaimed Parasite, which in 2019 won the Palme d’Or at Cannes – a first for a South Korean film. Parasite also became the first South Korean film to receive Academy Award nominations, with Bong winning Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay, making Parasite the first film not in English to win Best Picture Oscar.

Despite the lower budget and smaller scale of the early film, Bong’s familiar trademarks are evident – social themes, genre-mixing, black humour, left-field soundtrack and sudden tone shifts are clearly on display.

Barking Dogs Never Bite tells the tale of a would-be professor Ko (Lee Sung-Jae), currently laid off until he can bribe his way into a permanent appointment; he is growing increasingly fed up with yapping dogs in the rather down-market apartment mega-complex he lives in with his pregnant wife. He decides to “do something about this”, which leads to a chain of increasingly disastrous events.

Ko finally manages to steal the barking dog at night and attempts unsuccessfully to throw it off the roof of his apartment complex.

Meanwhile, Park Hyun-Nam (Bae Doona), on the adjacent apartment building roof, watches Ko’s antics with her binoculars. She works at dead-end maintenance and book-keeping jobs, just hoping to become famous one day. She realizes that her moment could have come if she catches and hands in Ko.

One of Bong’s themes, of animal cruelty, is loosely inspired by the 19th-century children’s novel, popular in Korea, A Dog of Flanders by Marie Louise de la Ramée, and the film begins with a huge “no animals were harmed” disclaimer. The warning is needed – at least for caninophiles or the overly-sensitive.

Barking Dogs Never Bite brilliantly shows the struggles of common people adjusting to a rapidly changing society, with old customs and new trends all colliding together.

Part black comedy, part satire and part drama, it is an original and compelling film on many different levels.  Direction, cinematography and comic acting are superb – especially the physical comedy gifts of Bae Doona, who credits the film as her career breakthrough.

Available online through Curzon Home Cinema and in cinemas.

Images courtesy of Curzon Home Cinema