This year, the Federal government nearly
reinstituted funding for horse beef inspections, but opponents prevailed in the
eleventh hour. As a result, the lucrative Canadian and Mexican horse
slaughtering concerns will carry on without American competition. Everyone likes
Mr. Ed, but the horse beef for human consumption does not hit most Americans on
the same visceral level as dog meat. Many Koreans feel the same way, but there
is still a tradition of dog cuisine that some in the older generation still
cling to. Obviously, opinion is mixed, but nobody is more conflicted on the
issue than Lee Kwang, the homeless protagonist of Kim Joo-hwan’s short film Retriever, which screens during the 2016 Third Culture Korean American Film Festival New York (Brooklyn).
Lee is a despised and marginalized
Chosonjok immigrant, an ethnic Korean from China. You could say he eats thanks
to dog meat cuisine, but he does not partake himself. Every few months, Lee
snatch-and-grabs a rescued stray from a provincial pound to sell to a back-alley
dog butcher. He assumes a big golden retriever like Bori will fetch a nice
price, but when his regular buyer lowballs him, Lee keeps him out of spite.
Much to his surprise, Leee quickly bonds with Bori. He even works off the cost
of vet bills when the dog gets sick through his own negligence. However, parents
and dog lovers should be strongly cautioned—viewers should absolutely not get
too attached to Bori.
Let’s just say Retriever is not The Lady and
the Tramp or Lassie—think more
along the lines of Old Yeller, but
even darker. We will see how dodgy-borderline legal dog butchers go about their
business and it is even more brutal than halal slaughter. This is definitely a
film that stakes out a clear position in Korea’s ongoing dog meat debate. Yet,
it has just as much or more to say about man’s inhumanity to his fellow man.
Moon Sun-yong is pretty darn devastating
as the desperate and degraded Lee, forcing the empathy out of even the most
guarded viewers. Of course, it is really and truly Max and Joon, appearing in
tandem as Bori, who lower the emotional boom, just like W.C. Fields could have
told you. The melancholy vibe is even further enhanced by the classically moody
cinematography of Nils Clauss and Jung Jin-ho’s pensive light-chamber music
Retriever wears its heart conspicuously on its sleeve
without shame or reservations. However, it is also an undeniably accomplished
film. The quality on-screen is plainly evident to see, but it is still apt to
ruin a lot of viewers’ days. If you like your films bittersweet with an
emphasis on bitter than you will love Retriever
when it screens this afternoon (10/22) with the feature Empty Space, at the Wythe Hotel in
Brooklyn—and remember you can get 15% off tickets with the “jbpins” promo code.
Labels: Dog movies, KAFFNY '16, Korean Cinema, Short Films