22nd April 2012
I was not at all sure how I was going to like the documentary Dancing Cat. The movie is about stray cats in Korea and I feared, before watching, that the film would go one of two ways. First, it could be terribly depressing. It is a fact that there are stray cats all over the place in Korea and that the vast majority of these animals are unhealthy, unclean and will likely die in a horrible way. I know that already, and I did not want to watch an hour long public service infomercial on the problem. The other way they film could have gone was overly sweet and sentimental attaching human emotions and motives onto the animals actions much how certain members of my extended family talk about their pets. I like cats and I had several over the years but I was not sure I wanted to see a sugary view of the feline world. Fortunately, director Yoon Gi-hyeong is successfully able to navigate the two pitfalls I mentioned and provide a look that into the lives of alley cats that manages to be hearwarming without being saccharine and to make its point about their plight without be preachy.
The film alternates between two voices. One belongs to director Yoon who tells the stories of Sweetness and Darth Snooze, two stray cats living outside his home, through motion pictures. The other voice is that of author Lee Yong-han who tales and memories of the cats residing near his apartment are told through numerous still photos. In fact, that was technically one of the most interesting parts of the film. The still photos worked so well in telling the story and were so cohesive that after a short time, I forgot that they were not moving images. Lee describes himself as a poet and traveller and a quick internet search reveals that he has several books to his name. It was not until he returned from a trip to Tibet that he became curious about the cats living all around him and he embarked on a project that at first may have been a way to find inspiration for a new book, but in fact became a passion and began a love affair with the animals. He admits to the fact that prior to starting his book research, he had no particular interest in cats at all, but the affectionate when he talks about them reveals that his stance has changed and he is now firmly a cat lover. He has also created numerous other cat lovers through his three best-selling books on the cats in this film. His first book, Goodbye Kitty and Thank You caught the attention of director Yoon and inspired the creation of this film.
This movie is not a retelling of Lee’s books. Half of the movie is told through Yoon’s camera and he imitated what Lee had already done… following and eventually caring for the cats and kittens outside his home. Yoon is normally a director of television advertisements but he successfully makes the jump to documentary-maker and perhaps the format of commercials actually assisted him as the vignettes that comprise the film are relatively short but, like a well made ad, they manage to create characters and evoke emotional responses in that brief time they are airing.
Through these two men, lives of Gusty, Blossom, Bessie, Yellow, Stranger, Sweetness, Snooze, Limpy and many others are projected on the screen and from there are forever embedded in the minds of the viewer where they will not be forgotten. The movie points out that while housecats will live for an average of fifteen years, these stray cats live only for three.. and most meet violent ends. Although the movie does not dwell on this point, it does hit home on a couple of ocassions.
Perhaps it was too soon after the death of my family dog that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, but after watching this movie I immediately headed over to the cat pages of the Korean Animial Rescue website (http://www.animalrescuekorea.org/adoptable-cats) and browsed through the images there. Of course, I know that adopting a cat on a whim would not be a good idea and one should be prepared for all the work and commitment that goes into owning an animal. Not to mention the fact that I am out most of the day and the cat would be alone with fish tanks and the indoor pond (http://aqualandpetsplus.com/Pond,%20Tom%20Giammarco’s%20Indoor%20Pond.htm).. It would be a terrible mistake to take in a cat. Still, it is a testimony to the power of Dancing Cat that I was even considering this course of action, however briefly.