Tuesday, November 18, 2014

In short: Stray Dogs (2013)

aka Wild Dogs

Original title: 들개들

Reporter So Yoo-joon (Kim Jeong-hoon) comes to a tiny isolated mountain village that loudly prides itself on being crime free to look for his friend Hyeon-tae (Kim Jae-il). Yoo-joon really needs to talk to him about Hyeon-tae’s wife, with whom Yoo-joon had an affair. An affair she is trying to end but Yoo-joon doesn’t take no for an answer there, and takes consensual as optional in their relationship – in every respect.

The villagers tell our morally challenged protagonist they have not the faintest idea where his friend is, and that would be that if his car didn’t break down, forcing him to stay in the village for a few days. Yoo-joon soon becomes suspicious of the villagers, whose general behaviour seems crazier and more secretive than could be explained by mere eccentricity. Indeed, Yoo-joon soon finds out the leading men of the village are holding a young woman named Kim Eun-hee (Cha Ji-heon) virtually captive, using her night blindness as an opportunity to make their nightly rape expeditions easier. Though she’s traumatized by years of abuse, Eun-hee would still probably have found a way to escape if not for her mother lying ill.

After much hemming and hawing, and probably to his own surprise, Yoo-joon decides to help Eun-hee, and he actually has good timing, because the good people of the village have just decided things are getting too risky for their tastes (as well as the whole crime-free village shtick), so Eun-hee will have to die. The ensuing bloodbath will teach Yoo-joon a valuable lesson, though I’m not really sure what’s it supposed to be.

My main problem with Ha Won-joon’s Stray Dogs is the nature of its protagonist, what with him raping his girlfriend in the first act. He’s not really a pleasant viewpoint character, but what’s more problematic, I don’t really see a reason why he has to be quite as horrible as he is. It would have been perfectly alright if he just had had a sordid affair with his best friend’s wife, but rape is generally the point where I really draw the line. Now, one might assume Ha had chosen this to make some kind of point about the difference or basic sameness between the ways Yoo-joon and the villagers go about badly hiding their true faces, but if he is trying to make such a point, I don’t really see where.

Things become easier to stomach once Eun-hee becomes the factual protagonist of the tale. Her losing control and murdering a bunch of people is at least perfectly understandable in the context of what the men she and Yoo-joon kill have done to her. Alas, the point when she turns from victim and moving plot point to person and perpetrator comes rather late in the movie; and of course, Ha doesn’t do much with this change either. Again, if he’s trying to make any ethical or even just psychological points, I don’t see them.

If you decide to stomach these problems, Stray Dogs turns out to be competent if sordid little thriller, well acted inside the not very complex parameters of its script, tight, and in the final thirty minutes pleasantly brutal. The last comes as a bit of a relief after all the drawn-out and often somewhat unnecessary unpleasantness of what came before; clearly, violence is the answer.

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