FILM REVIEW: Lost Dogs
Familial tensions bubble as Jeong-Eun longs to escape her wretched mother. Her salvation comes with the arrival of her religious brother who harbors a dark secret.
Director: Cullan Bruce
Cast: Chris Lee, Edward Hong
Language: Korean, English
Runtime: 15 min
Review by Leon Lau
We are introduced to the world of Lost Dogs (2017) through the screams and wailing of Jeong-Eun (Chris Lee). As her mother holds her head over the bathtub and forcibly shaves her hair off, we immediately get a sense of the power dynamic situation in the family. This is how we meet our protagonist Jeong-Eun. Disgraced, humiliated and frustrated as the black sheep in the family. At its core, Lost Dogs is a loud, stylistic film about everyday people in extraordinary situations.
With its dramatic cuts on violent acts and an orchestral soundtrack, one could easily mistake this for a Park Chan-Wook film. Director Cullan Bruce shows clear admiration and respect for films like Oldboy, where realism is traded in for a more outrageous tone. From the almost cartoonish way violence is handled to bold uses of saturated blues, reds and yellows, everything about Lost Dogs’ visual style is loud.
Thankfully, Lost Dogs isn’t just style without substance. The characters are all endearingly quirky, and Chris Lee’s portrayal as the timid young girl who gradually grows a backbone to fend for herself is incredibly satisfying to watch. But the story only really kicks off when her brother returns home.
When Jeong-Eun’s brother makes an unannounced visit, we are treated to a hilarious scene of sibling favoritism. Their mother showers her debt ridden son with blind praise, and verbally abuses Jeong-Eun for being unmarried. By all accounts, this is a pretty generic scene on paper, but director Cullan Bruce manages to use inventive ways to make it feel fresh by injecting irony and visual humor. Throughout the scene and for the rest of the film, we never see their mother’s face.
She is always out of focus, out of the frame, or conveniently obscured by objects. They literally cannot see eye to eye and by depicting that in a visual manner, it shows animonisty in their relationship in just a few shots. And more importantly, sets Jeong-Eun up brilliantly as the belittled girl that we want to root for. Much of the story is told from her emotional point of view, as she goes on a personal journey to help her incompetent brother and prove herself.
What ensues is a wild ride that blends comedy with body horror and drama. Every actor relishes the quirky script, but it’s Chris Lee who ends up stealing the show. For all the crazy tonal shifts the film goes through, her sympathetic performance helps to ground the audience emotionally. It’s a shame then, that the film still occasionally overwhelms the more poignant, emotional scenes with so much quirky, offbeat humor that it takes you out of the moment.
It is undoubtedly messy at times, and not all of the tonal shifts pay off by the end. But with a standout performance by Chris Lee and breathtaking visuals, Lost Dogs emerges as a hyperkinetic crime thriller that doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s a generous slice of dark comedy that will please fans of the genre.