Citizen Dog
Thailand 2004
Directed by Wisit Sasanatieng.

Whimsical and surreal, candy-coated movie that overdoes it on the whimsy and leaves you feeling that you've been held down by a group of purple-clad elves and force-fed pixie sticks.

Pod (Mahasamuth Boonyarak) is a young man from the country working small-time jobs in Bangkok, at a sardine factory, then as a security guard, and taxi driver. He meets and falls in love with Jin (Sangthong Ketuthong), a maid who found a book with a white cover written in a foreign language, that she takes to be her bible, and her mission in life to learn how to read. The story is narrated from beginning to end by Pen-ek Ratanaruang, in a style reminiscent of THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY. But the narration further distances us emotionally from the film, which is already quite distancing because of the deadpan performances and the general concept of the story as satire. There are no real people, just types, they have no inner life, they are only puppets animated by the plot. We should care whether Pod and Jin get together, but neither of them are real enough to make much difference either way. In fact the most emotional relationship in the film is between an eight-year-old girl and her chain-smoking teddy bear.

Did I mention the film is surreal? And great moments come out of this: In addition to the teddy bear, there is a zombie motorcycle taxi driver, and a mountain of plastic trash that grows to overlook the city. Everything is beautiful: glorious pastel colors everywhere and purple is the predominant color of the film: At the sardine factory, everyone wears purple pants, at the office, everyone is in purple suits. CITIZEN DOG is a beautiful film, but the chances of a long term relationship are not high.

Part of the problem is that whimsical magical-realism is played out as a movie device and is tired. AMELIE pushed this sort of thing to the front, and CITIZEN DOG is far too influenced by AMELIE to be much good itself. But what the heck, if you want to make such a film yourself, just as a sort of punishment for me, there are several key, tired, cliche things to include in your movie:

1. Make sure everything is brightly colored. Increases the sense that the movie depicts sort-of real life, only more vivid and lively and fun and colorful. Anthing can happen in this kooky land!

2. Accordian music. Lots of it. Think French cafes.

3. Everyone needs to have a strange mission in life that they can somehow dedicate their life to without being institutionalized.

4. Make sure the heroine is cute. Wide-eyed also helps. Keep the camera on her a lot. Get your audience to fall in love with her, and they'll get confused and think they love your movie.

5. At some point, have people in the movie suddenly turn to the camera, perhaps to make an aside to the audience, or better, start singing.

6. Repeat.

I'm giving the impression that I hated CITIZEN DOG, I didn't, I just found it uninspired, boring, cliche, and uninvolving. For all the surreal imagery on the screen, I kept waiting for something that had some emotional impact to happen. It never did. Oh, wait, I'm still giving the impression that I hated it. Oh, well. Hey, there is a rap song in the middle of the film that I totally loved, at least! It is too bad as I think director Wisit Sasanatieng's last film, TEARS OF THE BLACK TIGER, is fantastic. For Wisit, lightning did not strike twice, but I have no doubt it will be an extremely popular film on the festival circuit.

Rating: Marginally Recommended (Marginally Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on September 03, 2007.

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