Following up his martial arts fantasy actioner Iceman (2014), director Law Wing Cheong moves in the opposite direction with the based-on-a-true-story animal drama Little Q. The story follows a dog, named Little Q, from puppyhood to old age as it intersects between two families in its life as a guide dog. Little Q saw an international release in December 2019 and, thanks to Well Go USA, is coming to home video in the U.S. August 2021. The release is bare-bones, including no special features and only trailers for Little Q and other Well Go releases, making the feature film the major draw for anyone interested in going on a dog’s journey. If you’re any kind of animal lover, make sure to have the tissues handy as Law pulls out all the melodramatic stops to tug at your heartstrings.
After being diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease, Master Chef Lee Bo Ting (Simon Yam) struggles to maintain his composure around others, shutting himself off as he considers his eyes a major component in doing his work and running his kitchen. His eyesight completely gone, he’s paired with a dutiful yellow Labrador called Q, who, despite Bo Ting’s initial protests and violent outbursts, remains a constant companion. The two inevitably form a tight bond that is soon tested as they come up against a challenge neither can defeat alone: time.
The materials for Little Q proclaim that it is based on an actual story, yet, strangely, the only writer mentioned is Susan Chan (Who Am I?) and no others, making the origin of the tale is a little obscured. After doing some digging, I discovered a 2012 film, Quill: The Life of a Guide Dog, which follows a near-identical narrative to Little Q and is based on the Ryohei Akimoto and Kengo Ishiguro novel The Life of Quill, the Seeing-Eye Dog (2006). The similarities are too many to discount, and thanks to an interview with Law, I can confirm that Little Q is a Cantonese remake of the 2012 film and/or an adaptation of Akimoto and Ishiguro’s novel. The removal of possible source material in the press release less of a concern and of an interesting aspect which may explain some of the nagging feelings, both good and bad, experienced while watching the film. On the one hand, the film often feels like an advertisement for the Hong Kong Guide Dogs Association, as the Association’s representative, played Him Law, is so prevalent in the overall narrative involving the three major phases of the film: Little Q as a trainee, as a guide, and in retirement age. This means that the audience clearly understands the strict safety rules and regulations that involve having a canine guide, but all of it comes at the detriment of the larger story of connection. Instead, the human characters are boiled down to emotional architypes, rather than held as fully formed characters. On the positive, the film is so focused on the interconnectedness of life, whether via animal companionship or interpersonal, that one would have to have a heart of stone to not to feel something life-affirming by the end.
Perhaps it’s because of my own canine story that I find Little Q both emotionally powerful and absolutely aggravating. We got our Kaylee, a rescue, when she wasn’t even three months old and, up until a spontaneous spinal injury, she was living her best life. Now, we do the best we can to keep her mobile and healthy, despite boredom being a major problem due to limited mobility that comes with aging and an existing injury. So when I see a film involving the connection between a human and an animal, I’m going to become that sucker whose feels the wounds of a character’s neglect or the animal’s unending loyalty. The thing is that the film relies too heavily on overly-dramatic moments, many of which will make animal lovers twinge in discomfort, in order to get Lee to begin to trust Q. You can’t tell from the script if Lee changes his view of Q due to nearly getting the animal killed or because of a genuine change of heart. Either way, while Yam is convincing as the initially despondent Lee who overcomes his own demons to accept his new reality, there’re plenty of reasons why Q should not have remained with Lee after their initial trial period except that the script demanded it. Add in several musical interludes that aim to use somber melodies under a montage over actual storytelling, and you’ve got yourself a film which is reaching for emotion, rather than earning it. Don’t get me wrong, the use of music/singing to underscore a dramatic moment can work. Look to the climactic battle in anime My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising (2020): the characters are in dire straits, the dialogue and character design communicating that they’re on the ropes, and then, just as the two losing fighters come to conclusion to combine their efforts, the vocal intonations begin, elevating the drama of the conflict. It certainly helps that, by this moment in the film, the audience is emotionally invested in the two characters at the center of the fight, whereas the continued musical montages in Little Q come off as forced and hollow.
Where the film succeeds, and it does so with a bit of grace and style, is the way Law places the perspective of the film through the lens of Q. The film opens with her as a newborn puppy. It’s she who first engages with Lee (almost in a rom-com type of way). It’s her through whom all the characters connect. This may be why the human characters seem so vapid at times because so much of the perspective is from Q, filtering every scene through whether she’s a good girl or not. If the audience didn’t really understand that the film is from her POV, Law inserts several moments where we see the world through Q’s eyes. This is often a lovely touch, reminding us that Q is not merely a character on the screen, but was once a living creature with a mind all its own. It’s also the kind of narrative flourish only possible in film, offering the opportunity to understand just what our furry friends see from their position.
There’s been a small surge of animal-centric films of late — A Dog’s Purpose (2017), A Dog’s Journey (2019), The Call of the Wild (2020), The One and Only Ivan (2020), and Vivo (2021), — to name a few. While the each offer their own pluses and minuses, they each offer a little perspective on a significant portion of the global community with which humankind shares a good portion of their lives. Some are like family members, talked of, documented, and cared for as another child or sibling. Our “fur babies,” if you will. If this describes you, then Little Q will not disappoint. It won’t revolutionize anything, but it will leave you wanting to rub a warm belly or boop a wet nose. Sometimes, that’s enough.
Little Q Special Features
- Well Go USA Preview Trailers
- Midnight Diner Trailer
Available on Blu-ray August 17th, 2021.
For more information, head to Well Go USA’s official Little Q website.
Final Score: 2.5 out of 5.