Woefully underrated, In China They Eat Dogs is a bizarrely engaging Danish thriller that will simply blow you away. It’s original and offers a much more complex look into the world of crime than its stylish American and British counterparts. I’m, of course, talking about Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino movies that only feel similar to this masterpiece. Sublimely subversive, morally complex, and full of intriguing characters this is a very strange movie. It blends action, black humor, and thrills into a very powerful narrative. A narrative that’s going to make you think.
In China They Eat Dogs is the first in a long line of Anders Thomas Jensen’s crime comedies. It was followed by such classics as Flickering Lights, The Green Butchers, and Adam’s Apples among others. It’s more fun than Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher although it offers the same authentic look into the world of crime. However, you should know that at the center of it all is an ordinary man not much different than you or me. Arvid is a very relatable character and the problems he faces are problems we all face. So, through his experiences, we can perhaps learn something. Or we could just enjoy the endlessly bizarre situations and hilarious dialogues.
Meet Arvid, a young guy working as a clerk at his local bank. His days are all pretty much the same but at least he shares them with his beautiful girlfriend Hanne. But those days are about to end as Hanne dumps him one day accusing him of being just too boring. Depressed, Arvid continues with his routine when a robber storms the bank he works in. And from this moment on, his life will never be the same.
Now, you’ve been probably wondering what the title has to do with any of this. Saying “In China They Eat Dogs” represents the destruction of Arvid’s system of values. He believed that there must be some universal rulebook and if he does everything by it, he will make it in life. These are the promises made to us by the tribal system of values. Just play your role and everything will be fine. As we all know, life is infinitely more complex. It requires answers that systems like religion, capitalism, socialism and other ideologies simply cannot provide.
So, to take a question as complex as that one and wrap it with black humor, fill it with crimes, gangs and fucked up situations is a feat worth admiring. To set up a story like this takes time so the first third of the movie might be a bit slower. However, once things start popping off you’ll hardly notice the time running out. And before you know it, our ninety minutes with this masterpiece will be over. Luckily, there’s a decent prequel to it titled Old Men in New Cars released in 2002.
In China They Eat Dogs tells the story of simple people in complex situations. It has a distinct European vibe and I could only compare it to Australian crime comedies. Two Hands, Gettin’ Squared and The Mule, to name a few. So, if you’re looking for similar movies do check them out. Finally, I just have to mention Bodnia’s and Cukic’s phenomenal performances. And the rest of the cast also did a great job, especially Slavko Labovic playing gang enforcer Ratko.
Director: Lasse Spang Olsen
Writer: Anders Thomas Jensen
Cast: Kim Bodnia, Dejan Cukic, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Tomas Villum Jensen, Peter Gantzler, Trine Dyrholm
Fun Stuff: The gang in the movie is Serbian. Eastern European gangs are very strong in Nordic countries.