Dir/scr: WisitSarasatieng. Thai-Fr. 2004. 100mins.
Co-produced by LucBesson's EuropaCorp, Wisit Sasanatieng's follow-up to Tears Of The BlackTiger is a film of undeniable charm: a romantic fantasy already touted bysome as a Thai equivalent to Amelie. Shot in the same iridescent coloursas Black Tiger, full of surrealistic humour and musical interludes, itis inventive and often moving.
Alongside the morefantastical sequences, Wisit throws in plenty of barbed asides about life incontemporary Bangkok. Certain viewers may find his tendency toward whimsy alittle self-indulgent, but the film looks likely to achieve cult status at thevery least.
The challenge is how to turnCitizen Dog into more than an arthouse novelty item. Internationaldistributors are understandably wary about the film despite Citizen Dog'sobvious crowd-pleasing aspects. They haven't forgotten the hype surrounding TearsOf The Black Tiger, bought by Miramax amid tremendous fanfare at Cannes in2001. Despite a hugely aggressive marketing campaign, featuring everything fromfridge magnets to Thai food, Wisit's debut feature underperformed almosteverywhere it played.
Citizen Dog is a more matureand accomplished film, but many will still look with alarm at the box-officefigures for its predecessor. Unlike Tears Of The Black Tiger, CitizenDog is set in contemporary Thailand. If the visuals weren't so stylised,this could almost pass for a piece of social realism.
The title refers to those atthe bottom of the heap: anonymous workers in dead-end jobs. Pod, Wisit's engaginglyfeckless hero (played by Mahasmut Bunyaraksh), is a poor country boy who hascome to the big city. He is barely eking out a living in a sardine factorywhere his job is to cut off fish heads.
One day, the foreman cranksup the pace of the production line and Pod ends up cutting off his index fingerwhich disappears into a sardine tin. He roams round town trying to re-discoverthe missing digit. This sets in motion the sequence of events leading to hismeeting Jin (Sanftong Ket-U-Tong), a beautiful office cleaner with a mania fortidiness.
Pod begins to court Jin inhis own eccentric way, setting up as a taxi driver so he can take her to work.She, however, seems more interested in saving the world from environmentaldisaster than in paying any attention to his romantic overtures. Wherever shegoes, she carries a white book. It's in a language she can't read, but she isconvinced that its pages contain the answers to the riddles of existence.
Wisit is not above a fewcruel jokes at the expense of his ingenuous heroine. In one of the funniest,most poignant, scenes, Jin discovers that her sacred tome is, in fact, a volumeof gay Italian pornography.
Early on, the film rattlesalong at a tremendous clip. The story of Jin's misadventures is told in voice-over,with set-pieces which play like sequences from silent comedies illustrating thekey events in his life. The factory scenes are staged with an elan reminiscentof Chaplin's Modern Times. Wisit has a telling eye for telling detail.Again and again, we see Jin fussing to make sure that bottles or cups areimmaculately tidied away.
The normal rules of realismdo not apply. At one stage, Pod's grandmother reappears re-incarnated as alizard at the very moment he is trying to commit suicide. Characters come tolife from the pages of romantic magazines. Pod's friend is killed by a storm inwhich motorcycle helmets rain from the sky. Commuters in densely packed busesand trains burst into song or begin romances after rubbing up against oneanother at rush hour.
Wisit takes the mostoutlandish ideas and characters and then treats them in utterly earnestfashion. Generally, he skirts a skilful line between humour and pathos. Attimes, Citizen Dog risks becoming cloying and repetitive. Wisit relies alittle too heavy on a sardonic, knowing voice-over (read by fellow auteurPen-Ek Ratanaruang) to hold together a narrative which wanders all over theplace.
Even so, this is a romanticcomedy buzzing with invention. For every idea that falls flat, there are alwaysplenty which take wing. With its eye-popping visuals, pop music and fey scenesof chain-smoking teddy bears, the film is undeniably kitsch in the extreme, butscrape away the surface gloss and there is an affecting love story at its core.
The Film Factory
Francois Da Silva
Sawatwong Palakawong Na Ayuthaya