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DIRECTED BY: Wisit Sasanatieng
FEATURING: Mahasamut Boonyaruk, Saengthong Gate-Uthong
PLOT: Pod moves to Bangkok, despite his grandmother’s warning he will grow a tail if he does so, and falls in love with Jin, a woman of serial obsessions—none of which involve Pod.
WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: It begins with Pod losing his finger at his sardine-canning job (he gets it back later). It ends on a mountain of plastic bottles that dominates the Bangkok skyline. In between, it indulges in a subplot about an affair between a girl who’s either 8 or 22 years old and her talking teddy bear. Oh, and it’s also intermittently a musical. Citizen Dog takes a lot of lunatic swings, and still manages to remain a crowd-pleasing romance.
COMMENTS: Pod and Jin are each, in their own way, searching for a dream, while not realizing that they are living in one. Jin dreams of one day reading the book that fell out of the sky and landed on her deck, written in a language unknown to her; later, she is able to put that dream to one side to pursue an obsession with saving the planet via recycling. Pod, meanwhile, is introduced to us as “a man without a dream”—at least, until he encounters Jin and quickly falls in love. Jin drifts from dream to dream, risking devastation when her plans don’t turn out as she expects, while Pod drifts from job to job, too scared to commit to anything and declare his feelings. Meanwhile, both of them miss the magic of the world around them.
The viewer doesn’t make that mistake, however. Wisit Sasanatieng drenches his movie in some of the boldest color schemes ever ladled on the big screen. Pod leaves a country home where swaths of golden grass grow from russet dirt, waving against a painted backdrop sky with an eternally glowing sun, and lands in a busy Bangkok where he gets a job at a ruby and emerald colored sardine-processing factory where even the fish have pink eyes. The people who populate the city are even stranger than their visual environments: a zombie taxi driver, killed during one of the city’s periodic rains of helmets; an amnesiac obsessed with licking; a talking teddy bear, who’s also a chain smoker who falls on hard times and turns homeless. Don’t worry, there are plenty more crazy characters where those came from, along with breaks for musical numbers, sequences that are sped-up or which play out in lethargic slow motion, and a gecko sex scene. Citizen Dog never runs out of ideas to throw at the viewer; but for Pod and Jin, it’s all just part of everyday life in the big city.
In conventional terms, Citizen Dog fails as a romantic comedy, because it never convincingly shows how Pod wins Jin’s heart. Dreamy Jin is completely blind to Pod’s devotion up into the final scene, when she suddenly succumbs to a short sappy speech and a kiss. But who cares? In unconventional terms, the movie succeeds brilliantly; each part of the series of almost-unconnected vignettes is a miniature joke brilliant enough to keep you eagerly awaiting the next one, so that you don’t really notice (or care much) about Jin’s lack of romantic development.
Citizen Dog‘s blend of old-fashioned romance and digitally-enhanced surrealism often draws comparisons to Amelie (2001). Tonally, however, it more resembles Michel Gondry‘s Mood Indigo (2013), in that it creates a whimsically unreal but fully lived-in universe where absolutely anything can happen. The difference is that Citizen Dog remains lighthearted to the end, never succumbing to the darkness that envelops the moody Indigo.
The genesis of Citizen Dog is as odd as its story line. It’s an adaptation of a novel by Koynuch. But, in a twist, Koynuch’s novel was itself an adaptation of Sasanatieng’s original unpublished screenplay! Once Koynuch gave Sasanatieng’s collection of vignettes without a story a unifying theme of dreams, the director felt he could come back to the script he’d abandoned and turn it into a feature film.
Sasanatieng’s first movie, Tears of the Black Tiger, was a Spaghetti Western parody with vividly artificial visuals similar to Citizen Dog. Both movies were minor hits with film-festival followers, although Dog is the more accessible of the two. But none of Sasanatieng’s subsequent movies have made much headway in the West, although he is still active. Unfortunately, Citizen Dog is not currently available on home video or (although you might be able to find a used all-region DVD on Ebay or other sources—be cure to confirm English subtitles are included). Tears of the Black Tiger, on the other hand, is still easy to acquire.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“People are able to swap fingers, they can grow tails, teddy bears are able to talk and sometimes it rains helmets. And that’s just a small selection of the weirdness this films throws at you. None of these things are ever properly explained, they’re just a part of the surreal world the characters inhabit and have to deal with on a daily basis.”–Niels Matthijs, Screen Anarchy
(This movie was nominated for review by Welrax. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)