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Citizen Dog
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by Jay Seaver

"Imagine "Amelie" except really magical."
5 stars

From the very first frames of "Citizen Dog", the audience should know they're in for something special. Commercial director Wisit Sasanatieng, cinematographer Rewat Prelert, and production designer Suras Kardeeroj make it clear early on that they're making a film of exceptional visual beauty, with the only question being whether or not it can keep up emotionally. Happily, it does, winding up as sweet as it is eccentric.

The film mainly follows Pod (Mahasamut Boonyaruk), whom the narrator describes as a simple country bumpkin come to Bangkok to make his fortune. Working at a sardine factory, he meets best friend Yod (Sawatwong Palakawong Na Autthaya) after each cuts off their index finger (in this film's world, though, this doesn't cause any bleeding and they easily reattach). Not wanting to go through that again, they quit their jobs, and it's at Pod's next job as a security guard that he meets Jin (Saengthong Gate-Uthong) and falls madly in love. Jin is pretty, but weird - she works as a maid and is obsessed not only with cleaning and keeping things orderly, but with the characters in serialized romance magazines an a mysterious book with an all white cover that fell from the sky when she was living in the country; deciphering its contents is her mission in life. She likes Pod, as he's the only person who talks to her (everyone else thinks she's crazy), but is far from head-over-heels for him.

Pod, Yod, and Jin live in a strange world. Aside from the detachable fingers, Pod seems vaguely perplexed at the musical number that goes on around him during the opening credits (which was even funnier after learning that Pod is played by a pop star making his screen debut; he's the only one not singing), and he encounters a truly bizarre cast of characters - there's the zombie motorcycle taximan who takes him to the bus stop; Yod's Thai-Chinese girlfriend Muay, who believes herself descended from an imperial chinese bloodline and enjoys riding crowded buses so she and Yod can be pressed together; Tik, an amnesiac who likes to lick things; Mam, who is either a twenty-two year-old woman who stopped growing at eight or an eight year-old who thinks herself 22, and whose teddy bear walks and talks. Jin later becomes an environmental protestor dedicated to collecting plastic bottles, and the pile that accumulates near her apartment is evidence of her zeal and failure to truly understand the concept of recycling (and belies her neat-freak tendencies).

Pod and his friends manage, though, as if the world around them isn't insane. And maybe it's not; as Pod notes when the other maids are making fun of Jin, they each have their own obsessions that they find perfectly ordinary. Pod, Jin and company aren't outcasts or people who draw special attention; they're faces in the crowd who quietly go about their own lives, with their own little quests for happiness.

The idea of them being swallowed in crowds is reinforced by the costume design; the characters spend most of the movie's first half or two-thirds wearing simple uniforms without even names - just descriptions of their employment, whether it be "Factory", "Security", "Maid", or "Taxi". They're simple designs, but idealized and spotless. Everything is built in a beautifully precise way that is artificial but still friendly and inviting, from the sun that fills half the sky when Pod is in the country to how neat Jin's house is even when it's overgrown with plants. Taxis have bright red seats whose corners come to crisp right angles, and even when things are at their lowest, there's still the potential for a happy reunion.

And things do get kind of sad in the middle - Jin stops paying attention to Pod, Yod loses Muay, Pod finds Mam's teddy abandoned by the side of the road. As much as the film had espoused a philosophy that what you need and love will find you, there's also a sad undercurrent of taking things for granted.

It's also crushing to see Jin's obsessive-compulsive little heart break when she learns the truth that contradicts some of the wild assumptions she's built her life on. That Ms. Gate-Uthong is a model making her screen debut is surprising; she imbues her eccentric character with a great deal of heart behind the weirdness. Boonyaruk is similarly likable; his character appears to drift through life, but it's not just Sasanatieng's incredible visuals that sell us on his love for Jin or how helpless he must feel as she's slipping away. He seems to grow as an actor in each chapter, reflecting the pleasant narration of Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (best known as the director of Last Life in the Universe).

"Citizen Dog" is a spellbinding film, easily compared to "Amélie" but better in almost every way; its world is both sweeter and more surreal, and it's not hard to develop a real rooting interest in the lead characters. Wisit Sasanatieng's previous feature was swallowed by Miramax never to be seen again in the United States; here's hoping that "Citizen Dog" has a better fate.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12943&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/09/06 12:10:43
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2005 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Fantasia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/28/10 Hillel what a wonder-filled film - so much fun to watch. I had a smile on my face the whole time 5 stars
4/29/07 Jonathan It's fantastic. 5 stars
10/04/05 Xavier Catafal A real masterpiece 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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