TLA Releasing // 1999 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Russell Engebretson (Retired) // October 20th, 2005
"Everything you did, you always believed you did the right thing, didn't you? If you believe you did the right thing, you did the right thing, no matter what anybody else says."
Is it peculiar for Denmark to be the home of this blackly comic gangster tale, a movie that surpasses Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels for pure madcap audacity? Perhaps not, since Danish audiences turned In China They Eat Dogs into a popular box office hit in 1999, a big enough hit to allow the director and cast to release a prequel three years later.
Arvid (Dejan Cukic), a timid and unambitious bank teller, thwarts a bank robbery by knocking out the distracted thief with a squash racket. He returns to his apartment (the boss magnanimously gives Arvid the rest of the day off) to find that the woman he lives with has dumped him, spray-painted an obscene remark on the wall, and emptied the flat of everything but an end table and television set. A minute later he answers the doorbell and is punched in the face by an irate stranger who declares she is the robber's girlfriend. She tells him that her boyfriend was going to use the stolen money to pay for an artificial insemination; their dreams of a baby and family are now dashed thanks to Arvid.
After she flees his apartment, Arvid -- sweet but not too bright -- has an epiphany of sorts and decides to track down the girl and deliver the money to her. His only problem is where to come up with the cash. In desperation, he pleads with his gangster/restaurateur brother Harald (Kim Bodnia) to help him rob an armored car. Harald displays a lack of enthusiasm for his brother's crackpot idealism, but -- ever on the lookout for the next big score -- concocts an elaborate heist that involves all three of his restaurant staff as henchmen.
After this elaborate set-up, which lasts about twenty minutes, the movie slams into high gear with enough stylized mayhem to satisfy even the most jaded Tarantino fan. There are thunderous explosions; sudden, violent deaths; betrayals; reversals of fortune; and running gun battles.
One thing is for sure, no one can accuse Lasse Spang Olsen of directing an artsy-fartsy, Danish dogme film. In fact, this movie is the dogme-school director's worst nightmare, perhaps even the archetypical anti-dogme. I went into this movie with no idea what it would be about, not a clue as to what sort of picture I would be watching. The beginning of the picture was slow and morose. It seemed to be heading into that territory of bleak, violent drama that pretends to be a black comedy. Arvid is a clueless, henpecked schmuck in a dead-end job, and he is about to pull off a hare-brained scheme that we all know will end in tears. But the movie tacks in a different direction when Arvid hooks up with his estranged brother, the phlegmatic, pragmatically homicidal Harald. The story slowly mutates into a violent, farcical action-drama as Harald draws Arvid into his amoral orbit. Arvid is ensnared by his brother's psychopathic yet charismatic personality, but we also see brotherly camaraderie. Harald may be a maniac, but he does love his kid brother.
Really, though, there is no need to analyze the movie too much. It has little more moral or intellectual depth than a Pulp Fiction or a Snatch. It fascinates the viewer (or repels, depending on your tastes) with its ironic cartoon violence. There are two things that distinguish this movie from its American counterparts. First, the Nordic setting, a refreshing change from the usual NYC/LA shoots. Second, the last five minutes of the picture were a real surprise, and something to distinguish it from a Guy Ritchie/Quentin Tarantino production. Though some hardcore action fans will dislike the tongue-in-cheek conceit, I found it to be a wry, comically dry finale.
The small helping of extras is hardly worth mentioning. The behind-the-scenes featurette consists of silly mugging and a bit of obnoxious patter; the stills gallery, as usual, is a waste of digital bits; however, there is a trailer for this movie's prequel, Old Men in New Cars, which looks like it could be a contender. Perhaps we can look forward to a TLA release in the near future?
I don't know if the DVD transfer is to blame for the softness of the picture, but it's hazy enough to look slightly out of focus. Colors are not vivid, but they aren't faded either. The color palette looks natural rather than exaggerated, and the disc displays no egregious artifacts. Subtitles are in the easy-to-read yellow style, but this is not a dialogue-driven movie, so even the unseasoned subtitle reader should have no problem keeping up. The sound is appropriately bone-rattling for gunshots and explosions, yet clear and natural for dialogue and soft sounds. The only complaint I have with the soundtrack is the blaringly loud sound level for some of the synth-pop music that wells up from time to time. If you crank your receiver up to reference levels, I advise you to have a volume control in hand to tame those overwhelmingly loud passages.
In China They Eat Dogs was more enjoyable by leaps and bounds than Desperado and an easy match for Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. If this sort of adrenalized movie is your cup of steroids, by all means, rent it now, or even consider a purchase; fans of gonzo action movies will enjoy repeated viewings. (If only violent crime were really this much fun -- we wouldn't have to watch movies.)
I would be afraid to allow even one of these wackos into the courtroom. TLA Releasing deserves a commendation for bringing this Danish movie to Region 1 shores. Case dismissed.
Review content copyright © 2005 Russell Engebretson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: TLA Releasing
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Danish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Danish)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
* Stills Gallery