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The Pye-Dog
       

From left to right: Eason Chan, Wen Jun-Hui, and Gia Lin
Chinese: 野.良犬
Year: 2007
Director: Derek Kwok Chi-Kin
Writer: Derek Kwok Chi-Kin, Long Man-Hong
Cast: Eason Chan Yik-Shun, Gia Lin, Wen Jun-Hui, Eric Tsang Chi-Wai, George Lam Chi-Cheung, Cheung Kwok-Keung, Siu Yam-Yam, Loletta Lee Lai-Chun, Billy Lau Nam-Kwong, Emily Kwan Bo-Wai, Li Ting-Fung
The Skinny: Surprisingly assured direction and a great performance from Eason Chan save The Pye-Dog from what it could have been: a cloying genre mix with some wannabe touching moments. However, as it turns out, The Pye-Dog is entertaining, emotional, and a damn fine Hong Kong movie. One of the most pleasant surprises of 2007.
 
Review
by Kozo:

There's plenty worth recommending in The Pye-Dog, but I'll single out two things. One, director Derek Kwok is a young filmmaker to watch. The first-time director delivers a surprisingly assured and entertaining movie that's well worth the Hong Kong Cinema label. Two, the movie stars Eason Chan. Chan's last film was the excellent Crazy N' The City, and while Pye-Dog isn't as good as Crazy, it's simliar in that it takes genre elements, mixes in a whole lot of character, and delivers a cinema experience that feels uniquely Hong Kong. That Chan is in both films is a bit ironic. While Chan has always shown obvious potential, his penchant for obscene overacting and showy mugging once branded him as more of a screen nuisance than someone worth watching. No longer; the guy has graduated from an undisciplined, sometimes wasted talent into one of Hong Kong Cinema's best actors. We can forgive him for Cop Shop Babes because right now, Eason Chan is money. Life is full of surprises, isn't it?

Chan is Dui, a triad gofer who has a particular affinity for assembling, though not necessarily shooting guns. He's sent undercover in an elementary school to ferret out the kid of a powerful gangster. The gangster is on his way back to Hong Kong to assume power, which threatens all sorts of triad muck-a-mucks who don't want anyone messing with the status quo. Dui's bosses are among the threatened, so they order Dui to find the kid to use him as a bargaining chip. Dui takes up a job as a janitor at the kid's school and sets about finding the boy, but his oddball personality soon attracts another oddball: young Wang (Wen Jun-Hui), a seemingly mute kid who first catches Dui's eye when he's roughhousing with a bunch of kids over a collectible Japanese trading card.

Their first encounter puts Dui at odds with Wang, but before long, the two forge some sort of common bond. Joining them is new teacher Miss Cheung (Gia Lin), who's a bit of an oddball herself. Together, the trio brave messed up field trips and difficult art assignments - oh, the horror! Meanwhile, there's triad action afoot, as Dui can't spend all this time screwing around in school on someone else's dime. Soon, people start asking how his mission is going, and Dui has to respond. Despite the innocous, warm-and-fuzzy storyline going on, guns and the men who carry them will soon make an appearance. Will the bullets and blood shatter Dui's idyllic new life?

The story of Pye-Dog doesn't seem too spectacular; it's a genre mishmash mixing themes and iconography seen in gangster films, heroic bloodshed, and father-son bonding flicks. None of these genres is referenced in an overt fashion. Nobody flies through the air with guns held akimbo, nor is this a hyperemotional, sweaty affair. The genre elements are grounded, and even subdued, and instead used to support the film's character elements. And those character elements? Somewhat maudlin and decidedly quirky. Sure, these people are involved in some kind of triad turf war, but they're more concerned with putting together a makeshift stage for the upcoming Christmas pageant. This is one of those films where quirky oddballs form heartwarming bonds, and love blossoms (between Dui and Miss Cheung) in a largely unspoken, indirect fashion. It would be safe to say that this sort of storyline and these sorts of genre elements have been seen before.

But hey, genre/character flicks are probably what Hong Kong does best - or at least, it did them best once upon a time. Pye-Dog seems cut from the same cloth as the earlier films of Wilson Yip, e,.g. Yip's excellent 1998 crimer Bullets Over Summer. That film was ostensibly about a cop stakeout, but it was deceptively aimless, meandering along but also delivering characters and relationships that were most definitely felt. Pye-Dog has gangster film elements, but it's really a character piece about oddballs connecting, frequently through fantasy or simply playing around. Dui bonds with Wang over lots of make believe; when caught raiding the school files by Wang, Dui cons him by pretending he's an undercover cop. A trip to the woods includes a dream sequence involving an imaginary boogeyman, and the construction of an eclectic, fanciful Christmas Pageant stage manages to connect Dui, Wang, and Miss Cheung. There's a likable innocence in the characters' relationships; they're all very much children, and seeing them bond is quite enjoyable and surprisingly affecting.

Once again, Derek Kwok gets plenty of credit. He and cinematogrpaher O Sing-Pui give the film a dirty/pretty look, with a dark, but rich palette of colors and a keen use of shadow to add depth to each frame. Pye-Dog looks like quality cinema, which is actually pretty rare for a Hong Kong film. More importantly, the film is told in a remarkably assured manner. Kwok gives the film many funny moments, but they're not "haha" guffaws, and instead mine irony and a familiarity with the actors and the genres being referenced. Besides yet another patented Eric Tsang supporting turn, Pye-Dog features appearances from Loletta Lee, George Lam, Shaw Brothers veteran Siu Yam-Yam, and even Cheung Kwok-Cheung (AKA: K.K. Cheung in some parts) in a surprisingly effective turn as a hitman. Cheung gets soulful, wannabe meaningful dialogue that would probably ring false in most films. Hell, it's still paper-thin here, but Pye-Dog does enough right that its forays into the hackneyed bowels of genre cinema are easily accepted and forgiven.

It's not all great in Pye-Dog. The combination of genre and character does lead to some out-of-nowhere plot revelations, and some of the twists don't entirely convince. Certain characters are revealed to be more than they are, and while some are expected, others feel too far-fetched to completely buy. Also, the film has the chutzpah to sell its emotional baggage with a key montage set to the strains of "You Light Up My Life", a directorial move that can either A) emotionally move, or B) completely alienate. If Dog Bite Dog is any evidence, the presence of a sappy song at a crucial moment can discredit a film, and in Pye-Dog, that eventuality comes dangerously close to happening.

But Derek Kwok manages to sell his moment of sap through solid direction, and very endearing characters. Young Wen Jun-Hui is no Goum Ian Iskandar, but he gives Wang a felt innocence, and as mentioned before, Eason Chan has grown into a solid screen presence. Dui is a character who rediscovers his moral center as a result of his contact with Wang and Miss Cheung, and Eason Chan handles Dui's character arc with affecting dignity. Dui is rude and a bit of a lout, but Chan makes his eventual nobility and decency easy to believe in. Gia Lin is a bit less convincing as Miss Cheung, though her pairing with Eason Chan manages to be effective. Pye-Dog mixes subdued emotions with gooshy, soaring moments of feeling, and that balancing act is frequently a dangerous one. The film's sentimentality may lose it a few points among harder-edged moviegoers, but the odd wit, welcome genre nods, and felt emotions are hard to resist. Given all its excesses, the film could easily have been seen as cloying, or perhaps too sure of its own cleverness. However, Derek Kwok and company manage to pull it off. Pye-Dog could have been a bad movie, but gratefully, it's far from it. (Kozo 2007)

 
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Mei Ah Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
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