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An Unfiltered Tapestry Of Difficult Stories — Dog War – Raindance 2024 (Film Review)

3 min read

Dog War is a tapestry of stories, all told directly from the trenches in what has become a vastly intersectional war. The dog meat trade in South Korea is centuries old, but it’s something that just doesn’t seem to fit easily in a modern humane society. Focusing on two American ex-soldiers, Jon and Vince, we see clashes between the East and West, the young and the old, and the progressive and the conservative. The battle lines are drawn just as clearly internally amongst Koreans as they are between our American protagonists and anyone else, and a range of nuanced takes on the industry provide a rich basis to question why we hold the beliefs we do around this topic.

It’s something of an automatic reaction to feel repulsed and disgusted by the idea of dog meat. Jon says early on, “We took dogs and domesticated them. That responsibility should never be forgotten,” and that contextualises a lot of his journey through Korea. As he visits farms where dogs are left to live in squalor, and where being fed rotten food is seen as a reasonable cost-saving measure, they all have one heartbreaking aspect in common. No matter how badly the dogs are treated, they all seem happy to have the chance to interact with a human.

In opposition, we meet restauranteurs who are trying to do things by the book, but are finding difficulty because the book doesn’t exist. Despite the dog meat trade having such a long history in Korea, at the time of filming there were no laws to deem it either legal or illegal. As such, no regulation of the industry existed either. Rather than demonising the people who are actively involved in the trade, Dog War is far more interested in exploring their humanity, and presenting a perspective that views it as a far more normal part of life than the American ex-soldiers are able to.

That said, a number of convincing arguments are laid out by younger Koreans. Daisy Kim, a journalist, talks about how eating dog meat is seen as “intellectually lazy,” which begs the question of whether that’s something we’ll be saying about the meat industry in general one day. Like every other question that Dog War poses, we’re left to come to our own conclusions with little steer from the film. For a topic that evokes such strong emotional responses, it never passes any judgment itself, and it does a fantastic job of presenting a diverse range of arguments to be judged by us instead.

Since Dog War filmed, the dog meat trade in Korea has become illegal. The film lives on beyond its potential for advocacy, however. This is an all-encompassing view of a behemoth industry’s final days, or at least its final days in the legal grey area of neither being able to comply with nor break the law. In showing such an unfiltered view, with such a diverse set of nuanced voices, we’re given the opportunity to explore why we feel the way we do about the things that are normal to us.

Dog War premiered at Raindance Film Festival on Sunday 23rd June