It’s not often that one gets to see independent films in my neck of the woods. Usually the university cinema will have a student’s short film festival, but they usually play the night before an exam. As such, Dogs of Chinatown was the first full length independent feature I was able to sit in on. When I first heard about this film, it was all I could do not to jump up and down clapping my hands and squealing like Cyrus after hearing about Joe Quesada’s untimely demise at the hands of someone wearing a Spiderman costume. I have a soft spot for Hong Kong style action films, particularly John Woo’s Hard Boiled
and The Killer
, and I counted down the nanoseconds until the screening. I did not have the highest of expectations of the film, particularly since this was the filmmakers’ first full length feature and it was shot on a shoestring budget, but that didn’t help wash away what I felt after walking out of the theater. Someone once said ‘you never forget your first’, and this is true for my first indie film. Unfortunately, I remember this film in a way that makes me want to run screaming bloody murder toward the nearest SVU
officer. Dogs of Chinatown shows some occasional promise, but it falls flat on its face on just about every conceivable level.
Perhaps I should have realized what I was getting myself into when the filmmakers introduced themselves. Micah Moore (who may or may not be the Micah Moore connected to a few adult films, but given the quality of the performances DoC, it would be less of a shock to me than finding out that Bruce Wayne survived that helicopter explosion
) swaggered up to the front of the theater and asked the audience if we liked kung fu and breasts, stating that if we did, we would enjoy this movie. None of the advance screenings I’ve attended before were close to long winded, but at least the theater managers showing Shoot ‘em Up
and Charlie Bartlett
actually told the audience a little more about the film than “Do you like action movies/high school comedies?”.
The actual screening itself was an unmitigated disaster. Most of the people present consisted of action movie lovers and a few film students who seemed relatively enthusiastic about the whole shindig. Unfortunately, as the movie kept on running, stifled bouts of laughter were heard where they shouldn’t have been, and it was hard to ignore the incredulous questions that were almost shouted at the screen. The only thing that kept me personally from going MST3K and riffing the film seven ways to Sunday was a wish to not offend the people who created it (sure, Plan 9 From Outer Space was terrible, but tell me you wouldn’t feel a little bad about mocking it if a living Ed Wood was sitting in the same room). Afterwards, I found out that the filmmakers were nowhere to be seen. It seems that they actually pulled a “Manos”
and bailed when they realized that the audience was itching to see if they could get a refund on the director’s promise on liking the film.
Dogs of Chinatown starts out with a man named Jake contemplating suicide (of course, we never learn exactly why Jake feels the need to suck on a handgun, but I digress) until he happens upon a beautiful Chinese woman being kidnapped by the Mob. After disposing of the two goons, Jake is recruited by the leader of the Chinese mob, Mr. Woo, to work for him as an assassin. Unfortunately, it turns out that there’s one tiny fly in the ointment: Jake might be good at blowing the bad guys away Michael Corleone style, but he can’t fight his way out of a wet bag made of Kleenex. He is sent to train with a drunken martial artist (presumably to learn martial arts, but only gains the ability to spout pretentious quotes from Sun Tzu’s Art of War in VO. During the film, Jake is torn between his loyalty toward his boss and his desire for Mr. Woo’s mistress, while the audience is still left wondering why in the name of Ed Wood’s knickers Jake’s mentor is seemingly written more as a bratty college student than something resembling a halfway competent martial artist.
While plots in Hong Kong action films are always somewhat flimsy, Dogs of Chinatown takes the cake. At first, the film progresses with no real narrative as Jake is sent on unrelated hits that in no way shape or form have any bearing on the overall arc. During the first half of the film, the rules of basic script writing are flouted with nauseating regularity as plot threads and characters are introduced only to be forgotten moments later. Often, the film ignores basic logic by having the protagonist, despite being touted as the scariest hitman in town, regularly bungle his assignments in a myriad of ways, leaving behind several witnesses and a murder weapon covered in fingerprints, while somehow staying employed and out of a Federal PMITA prison
Eventually, the film remembers that most people expect some kind of narrative cohesion, at which point it tries to morph into a John Woo film, but without most of the things that people look for in them. Like action. Dogs of Chinatown has got to be the single dullest action film I have seen in a while, and I sat through freaking Conner’s War. At one point, the film pulls a No Action Sequence For Old Men
and decides not to actually show the audience what is insinuated to be an awesome gun battle, but makes sure that we see the following yawnfest of a fistfight. What little action exists is serviceable, but oftentimes makes about as much sense as the average internet conspiracy theorist. In one scene, a goon has a gun drawn on a man sent to kill him, but instead decides to drop the gun to get into a fistfight which concludes with his neck being broken. The crowning moment of stupid rears its head when our ‘hero’ is mortally wounded, but somehow manages to get up and take down an entire criminal enterprise in a mixture of gunfights and kung fu brawls without any indication of feeling pain.
Hampering the action even further is the miserable sound effects. Ordinarily I wouldn’t say anything, given that DoC sometimes seems to be a few sliding cardboard doors and Styrofoam boulders away from having a budget comparable to the original Star Trek series, but I call extenuating circumstances on this one. When watching the film, I came to a rather shocking realization: the sound effects in the trailer are actually superior to those used in the finished film. It’s not uncommon for trailers to contain unfinished pieces of the movie, sometimes making use of stock sound effects, which results in the trailer looking and sounding inferior to the actual film. This film, on the other hand, is actually technically inferior to the trailer.
Since most of Dogs of Chinatown doesn’t involve action, one would think that more care was put into the rest of the film. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Dialogue is incredibly ham fisted for the most part, using up every action movie cliché in the book, and the actual delivery manages to somehow make them even worse, which in this film’s case says more than it is safe to contemplate without experiencing a reaction akin to looking at Great Cthulhu. The most prominent offenders were a woman who, despite being cast as a member of the Chinese mob, spoke with an English accent so thick it could only be cut with a diamond drill and a man speaking with the most hilariously fake Russian accent since Sean Connery in Hunt for Red October
. The performances for many of the characters are almost uniformly cringe worthy, particularly ‘the General’. Whenever he is onscreen, he chews the scenery in a way that defies description, but unfortunately his performance doesn’t ever cross over into the realm of being unintentionally entertaining. The only saving grace of the entire film is the actor playing Mr. Woo, who manages to convey the weakest of lines as if he were channeling a more intimidating version of Uncle Hoi from Hard Boiled.
Dogs of Chinatown attempts to develop a visual style, but all this really boils down to is the film going black and white while shining different colored lights on certain objects a la Sin City. The problem with these stabs at artistry is that they feel completely random. Most visual tricks of this nature have a purpose to them (Schindler’s List’s red dressed girl, for instance), but here it crops up without any rhyme or reason, and more often than not it winds up looking like something that even Zack Snyder
would think looked overdone.
In the end, Dogs of Chinatown is an awful, awful film that’s made even more painful by the little wasted talent present in the form of Mr. Woo. The script is poorly written, the directing is generally on par with that of the average porno, and the action, which should be the foundation for any good action film, can’t save this House of Usher. Dogs of Chinatown doesn’t end with a bang, but whimpers all the way to the final fade to black.