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Original Title:
Ddong gae

South Korea 2003

Drama, Comedy, Action

Kwak Kyung-taek

Jung Woo-sung
Kim Kap-su
Uhm Ji-won
Kim Jeong-tae
Lee Soo-ho
Park Sang-gyoo
Hong Ji-yeong
Kim Sang-ho
Heo Wook
Kim Kwang-gyoo
Lee Hwan

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Mutt Boy

Story: Cha Cheol-min (Jung Woo-sung) is a slightly retarded boy. His mother died during giving birth to him and his grandmother also died when he was still very young. Now he lives alone with his father (Kim Kap-su), a respected police officer in his home town Milyang. Cheol-min who is called "stray dog" by everyone around him, because he is often straying around in the neighborhood doesn't do much with his life and this even though his intellect would allow him to do more than just sit around at his father's place, doing all the household chores. When one day his beloved dog is eaten by some of his schoolmates he loses it and beats up one of the culprits. After that Cheol-min doesn't go to school anymore and completely spends his days at home until he makes the acquaintance of some other guys who dropped out of school who can get him a job on a scrapyard. "Stray dog" still may not have a real perspective in life, but he soon gets the opportunity to prove his worth. Moreover, there is also the girl Jeong-ae (Uhm Ji-won), an orphan who was taken in by Cheol-min's father, for who "stray dog" slowly starts to have some feelings.

Review: Director Kwak Kyung-taek, the man who made "Friend", the movie that is nearly worshipped by some Korean juveniles, delivers an outright disappointment with "Mutt Boy". What's standing out the most is that in Kwak's movie you don't really know what it's actually revolving around. That is because once again family drama and gangster action are put together in a wild mix whereas latter plays a rather small part, though. All in all the mood of the film also seems pretty lighthearted so that after putting aside numerous introduced and nonsignificant side characters you get to the conclusion that everything is just centering around Cheol-min and his life. However, his life isn't something you can call captivating or thrilling, therefore you could at least expect some drama to find its way into the movie at some point, something that can move us, but that's also one of the things that you won't get here. "Mutt Boy" is a movie that will simply leave you cold, narration-wise is more of an insult and in the end will just bore you.

It was a good decision of the director to make Jung Woo-sung ("A Moment to Remember", "Daisy") take on a completely different role than usual. In shabby clothes, with strong dialect and silly facial gestures Jung proves that he doesn't fear showing his ugly side without actually looking ugly that is. For that the make-up man would have to try a bit harder than this. His behavior makes Cheol-min in fact often seem like a straying dog. Jung delivers pretty good work with his portrayal, but sometimes he also runs the risk of playing his character a little bit too much like a caricature and then it becomes apparent that Jung tries too desperately to give Cheol-min some pecularities. Jung is overshadowed by Kim Kap-su ("A Tale of Two Sisters") on several occasions, anyway, who plays the father of "stray dog". The screenplay doesn't seem to provide him with any real character traits either, but Kim nonetheless gets out surprisingly much of his character. He is a single parent who doesn't have an easy job raising his son and who also accepts some bribe sometimes in order to provide his son with everything he needs, but we never really doubt that he is one of the good cops.

Between Cheol-min and his father there are oftentimes some quarrels, naturally. The scope reaches from funny disputes like that of who has the prerogative to get the pan-fried egg at the breakfast table to serious family arguments, that are putting the unit of the family to a test. But the drama element is rather shallow, because the sacrificing way the father takes care of his son in his very own way makes us wonder if he really would ever forsake his son and the answer always is a clear no. In order to steer the story more into the direction of romance there is the girl Jeong-ae introduced to the mix. But the implied romantic relationship between her and Cheol-min never seems to be on fruitful soil. Oftentimes we get the impression that "Mutt Boy" is supposed to depict something like a tragicomedy with its oftentimes awkward humor, which unfortunately also doesn't always hit the right notes. But such movies have to wander on a thin line, a line which Kwak can't even locate in his movie. "Mutt Boy" is in every respect, concerning mood, story or characters alike, simply too bumpy.

In the end you will ask yourself what story "Mutt Boy" actually tries to tell. The story around a boy who slowly realizes that he needs a perspective in life? No, to that the ending doesn't really give us a hint. It's more as if Kwak just wanted to illuminate the life of a boy who is mentally challenged a bit, yet also doesn't worry about his future thanks to that. But all of this are just assumptions you make because the film doesn't provide you with enough material to get to a satisfying conclusion. Therefore, "Mutt Boy" obviously doesn't want to say anything at all! For the audience that's very frustrating, of course, as the film isn't entertaining enough to make up for this deficiency of content. There is no captivating story thread for us to care and this even though there is implemented a strange story about a mafia-like contractor organisation that seems pretty out of place but is supposed to bring in some more tension into this otherwise action-lacking movie.

How little the several pieces fit together becomes especially apparent towards the end when we get to see an incredibly lengthy and boring brawl in jail which most likely was supposed to make up for the lacking showdown. But Kwak didn't seem to understand that he doesn't really need such a finale in a drama! Maybe he made that mistake because he didn't really know what movie he wanted to deliver in the first place? Anyway, when everything is said and done we don't really know what to keep from this film. The time this film steals from you is something you never get back, thus you get angry about the fact that not even the characters were really interesting enough to make this waste of time at least a bit more bearable. "Mutt Boy" is therefore only interesting for women who want to see Jung Woo-sung wearing only his underpants fighting against another half-naked man during the finale. Everyone else should avoid this film the best they can...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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