Despite screening outside both the international and ASEAN competition at the Bangkok International Film Festival, the most talked about film at the event was Wisit Sasanatieng's highly anticipated Citizen Dog (Ma Nakorn). The producers of it no doubt kept it in the Thai Panorama not to hamper the film's life on international festivals, where it should have an even better and longer life than the director's previous effort, Tears of the Black Tiger (Fah Talai Jone). Wisit Sasanatieng's feature directing debut was the first Thai film selected for Cannes, where it screened in Un Certain Regard in 2001.
Citizen Dog is a surreal modern fable about the country boy Pod (Mahasamut Boonyarak), who goes to the big city Bangkok, though his grandmother warns him to grow a tail, if he ever gets a job there. He nevertheless quickly starts working in a sardine-packing factory, looses his finger, finds it again and gets a new friend in the process. The fast paced introduction to this warped reality is nothing short of hilarious and Sasanatieng's great looking color-splashed world (courtesy of DoP Rewat Phreeleat) is as inventive as Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 2001 hit Amelie of Montmartre, which seems to have had a strong influence on the Thai filmmaker. However, the film's central story sees Pod falling in love with Jin (Sangthong), a maid obsessed with cleaning, who has her head buried in a mysterious white book. The dreamless boy only has eyes for the dreamy girl, but she is too caught up in her own world to notice. The story throws everything from musical numbers (with Thai pop ballads) to undead motorcycle drivers and talking teddy bears into the mix, and it is at its best when it constantly surprises the audience with its surreal absurd humor. However, it really wants to be romantic at the same time, and it is much less successful at that. About halfway through the film looses its momentum, it simply runs out of story when the relationship between Pod and Jin fails to develop, and the film never really recaptures the audiences' attention.
Despite the script problems in the second half, Citizen Dog is more fully developed and accomplished than the Western parody homage Tears of the Black Tiger. Sasanatieng's background as a successful commercials director is still evident, but he is on his way to finding his own voice. Along with his close collaborators Nonzee Nimibutr, for whom he wrote Nang Nak in 1999, and Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (Last Life in the Universe), who also narrates Citizen Dog, Wisit Sasanatieng confirms his position in the forefront of the Thai New Wave.
Expect to see Citizen Dog at a major European festival in the months to come.
Jacob Neiiendam is a Danish film critic and journalist who contributes to both national and international magazines and newspaper. He is now the head of programming for the Copenhagen International Film Festival.