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Dog Bite Dog

(left) Edison Chen and Pei Pei, and (right) Sam Lee and Lam Ka-Wah in Dog Bite Dog.
Chinese: 狗咬狗
Year: 2006  
Director: Soi Cheang Pou-Soi  
Producer: Shin Yoneyama, Sam Leung Tak-Sum
Writer: Matthew Chow Hoi-Kwong, Szeto Kam-Yuen, Lee Chun-Fai
Action: Jack Wong Wai-Leung
Cast: Edison Chen, Sam Lee Chan-Sam, Pei Pei, Lai Yiu-Cheung, Eddie Cheung Siu-Fai, Lam Suet, Dominic Lam Ka-Wah, Fire Lee, Chow Ka-Sing
The Skinny: Punishing and insanely intense, Dog Bite Dog is the perfect antidote for those who think Hong Kong Cinema is all dopey comedies starring Alex Fong Lik-Sun. It's also a bit over the top, and so nihilistic that it repels instead of involves. But if this is your type of movie, then Dog Bite Dog won't disappoint.
by Kozo:

Edison Chen extends his famously limited range with Dog Bite Dog, an anticipated crime thriller that's harrowing, punishing and unforgiving to both its characters and the audience. Chen stars as a Cambodian hitman let loose in Hong Kong, where he proceeds to snuff his mark and just about everyone else who crosses his path. We're first introduced to him on the boat over, where he's locked in the hold like an illegally-transported feral animal. When his meal of rice porridge is spilled into his dwelling, he devours the spilled food like the eponymous dog of the title. The way Chen is portrayed in these sequences, it's like he's an uncontrollable beast. He's dirty, scruffy and practically monosyllabic, plus he'd probably eviscerate you with his teeth if you made fun of his rapping. And while he may be a figurative canine, he doesn't actually call anyone "dawg". Clearly, this is the greatest Edison Chen film ever.

Opposing the assassin (Chen's character is never named) is Wai (Sam Lee), a young detective with a decidedly disagreeable attitude. Wai clashes with his superior officer (Eddie Cheung Siu-Fai) over his insubordinate attitude, before beginning his pursuit of the assassin — who we'll call Ed, simply for discussion's sake. After checking out the crime scene, Wai runs into Ed, who leads him into a local dai pai dong (or open-air restaurant) and proceeds to demonstrate his killer instinct by offing a pile of people. The display of casual brutality incenses Wai, and once Ed is on the loose, Wai begins to become unhinged in his pursuit. Leaving the rest of the cops (including Lam Suet and Lai Yiu-Cheung) far behind, Wai sinks even lower in his obsessive chase, brutalizing informants, bartering information for drugs and basically acting like a world class lout. After a while, the question must be asked: who's worse, the killer or the cop?

Probably the killer, though the filmmakers blur the line so forcibly that they practically leave chafe marks on the celluloid. Dog Bite Dog is thematically solid, and proffers a worldview that's so pessimistic and depressing that it might cause emotional scarring. Unlike many celebrated Hong Kong crime thrillers, where there's "heroism" between the bullet holes and head trauma, Dog Bite Dog is full of ugly, morally bankrupt people who listen to their conscience only when it's too late — or perhaps never at all. Ed leaves a truckload of bodies in his wake, never bothering to hesitate when pulling the trigger or plunging in the knife. At least he's humanized in his two relationships: with his Cambodian "father", who raised him via brutal bare-fisted death matches, and with an illegal Mainland immigrant (newcomer Pei Pei), who's sexually abused and lives on a putrid landfill. Ed rescues her from her sordid lifestyle and agrees to bring her with him back to Cambodia after she demonstrates pure-hearted devotion to her ultraviolent savior. She'll even turn on the cops who oppose Ed, and will risk life, limb and possible gangrene to be with him. If it weren't so sick, it might almost be sweet.

But hey, that's the world of Dog Bite Dog, where everything just sucks. Director Cheang Pou-Soi seems to have found his calling with depressing thrillers that make modern life seem like reason enough to put a bullet in your brain. His last film, Home Sweet Home, featured a revenge-seeking squatter who terrorized a housing estate because it was built on the remains of her dead family. In that film, signing the wrong rental agreement could lead to unexpected terror and the loss of both husband and child — and it's all because society is cruel, unfeeling and plays no favorites. In Dog Bite Dog, everyone is the victim and they all strike back by becoming perpetrators. Even the righteous cops aren't so hot; some hold damning secrets, and others will eventually resort to questionable methods because, dammit, they're pissed off. Dog Bite Dog is an unforgiving portrait of life as Hell, where justice is nonexistent and even the sympathetic characters start to act like monsters. Basically, this is the most unhappy time you'll have at the movies this year.

For the viewer, however, unhappy isn't necessarily bad. Dog Bite Dog is so dark and unforgiving that it's bound to find fans. Brutality is only the tip of the iceberg for Dog Bite Dog, which earns its Category III rating thanks to copious violence and an intensity that can only be called unrelenting. Cheang Pou-Soi stages things with stark cinematic flair, going for moments of hair-raising stillness before laying into the audience full force with a gunshot, clubbing or sudden smackdown. Dog Bite Dog is a movie where characters off each other at the drop of a hat, and Cheang creates admirable atmosphere. This is an ugly/gorgeous film that creates beauty out of disgusting images, e.g., Edison Chen gorging himself on dimsum before offing someone, or a violent throwdown in a garbage-strewn landfill. The sound guys earn their keep here; aside from the feral sounds permeating certain scenes, the violence is almost always punctuated by eardrum-shattering sound. If nothing else, this is a film that will keep you awake.

However, Dog Bite Dog is also a film that could prove repugnant to some. The film's depiction of humanity is so unrelentingly pessimistic that some people may end up classifying it as completely without redeeming value. Honestly, those people may be right. Dog Bite Dog's darkness will undoubtedly be appealing to many cinema cultists because it's the type of movie that simply screams, "Not for the whole family!" It's everything Walt Disney wants no part of, and that anti-fuzzy attitude earns automatic cred with people who treat Category III as a brand name, and not just a rating. Honestly, those people are right too. Dog Bite Dog earns its blood-spattered wings readily, and delivers a hardcore thrill ride that's most definitely felt. That feeling may be akin to a rat chewing its way out of your stomach, but it's definitely there. If that sounds unappealing to you, then maybe a repeat viewing of Nine Girls and a Ghost is just your thing.

Cheang and company do go too far with their ending, which takes "over the top" and ditches if for "too much". For a majority of the film's running time, the dog-eat-dog themes are presented full-force like some sort of unhappy sociology course, but at the end we get a final "circle of life" natural history lesson that takes the film's consistent darkness and trades it in for something we might watch on The Discovery Channel. It's further than Cheang Pou-Soi had to go; sometimes meaning can occur without going that extra step, but Cheang covers a few football fields with the film's climax. Some advice to Cheang Pou-Soi, Wong Ching-Po, the Pang Brothers and other filmmakers determined to have the last word: Sometimes less can be more.

But what about the elephant in the room? We're talking about the million dollar question on the lips of the people who hated Gen-Y Cops and the people who loved it, too. If you're asking, "How was Edison Chen?", then the answer is: not bad at all. He may be upstaged by Sam Lee and Lam Ka-Wah (as Wai's father), but Edison Chen turns in range-busting work in Dog Bite Dog. He's convincingly psychotic and attacks the role admirably. Chen's work isn't compensation for Gen-Y Cops, but at the very least it's a solid downpayment against what's owed. Overall, Dog Bite Dog is the perfect poison pill for Hello Kitty haters, and delivers a harrowing ride of violence, brutality and full force thematic excess. It's all a bit much, but the film's starving genre-specific audience will undoubtedly be tickled pink, if not a dark crimson red. As the saying goes, you know who you are. (Kozo 2006)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Joy Sales Film and Video Distributors
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Various Extras

images courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen