In China They Eat Dogs

In China They Eat Dogs

Denmark's dark comedy In China They Eat Dogs owes much more to Quentin Tarantino than to Lars von Trier. Which ordinarily wouldn't be a good thing, but here it works - however slightly - and the film was a big hit with the Danes when it was released there over a year ago. For the most part, though, it's just another crime caper with the requisite bloody and/or jokey plot twists.

Early in the film, Arvid (Dejan Cukic), a henpecked nobody, thwarts a bank robbery with a squash racket(!); however, that act of heroism not only fails to impress his beyond-bitchy girlfriend, but in fact inspires the apparent wife of the bank robber to barge into his house and kick his ass, explaining that her husband had to rob the bank so that they could conceive a child.

A remorseful Arvid turns to his criminal brother Harald (Kim Bodnia, quite good, reminiscent of a young Bob Hoskins) and suggests that they rob an armored car in order to give the money to this poor couple. Harald, a bit of a psychopath, enthusiastically agrees. They pull off the heist, then naturally everything goes wrong and the body count starts to rise.

This first plot twist is incredibly far-fetched, but it's not the last, so early on you either accept the film's kooky illogic or you don't. It's entertaining on a low level, but so much of it feels amateurish, story-wise, that it's hard to tell whether Olsen and his writer Anders Thomas Jensen are craftily sending up crime film stereotypes (wimpy protagonist, sociopathic brother, dumb accomplices) or simply don't know anything beyond those stereotypes.

That said, there is a good shoot-out involving a scary-looking crew of Yugoslavians, and a completely whacked-out surprise ending that takes the entire film and turns it on its ear. In fact, the ending is so utterly mad that it almost justifies the rather average storyline and gives the film depth. But not quite. Its central theme about the subjectivity of right and wrong (referenced by its title) never resonates beyond the pop psychology level.