Published on April 5th, 2006 | by Greg0
HIFF Spring: Citizen Dog
Picture this: helmets fall from the sky, killing a motorcycle taxi driver, but he likes his job so much he still returns to work the next day: as a zombie. Reincarnation, in a sort of Rube Goldberg way. This is one of many subplots, all as strange as the compulsions the characters are defined by. Be prepared for obsessive cleaning, licking, a supernatural work ethic, and tails.
The setting is Bangkok, and the movie is Citizen Dog, a bizarre Thai film that was one of HIFF Spring’s strangest entries- and that is saying something. Our previous HIFF Spring coverage is here, and for those who have commented that our coverage is perhaps a bit mainstream for the Truly Obscure moniker, consider these articles as our tributes to the weird and random.
Because this is a strange and quirky movie, one that is brilliantly creative… it is unfortunately also predictable if you have seen other similar films of brilliant creativity. Amelie certainly comes to mind, and the director (Wisit Sasanatieng, who previously made Tears of the Black Tiger) was obviously a fan of that sort of fantastic, magical realism that made Amelie so endearing. If you’re a fan of Jeunet & Caro, this is almost like watching a lost film from the former pair- the supernatural colors and extravagant cinematography, with some of the careful plotting and macabre details. Musical numbers, romances, and strange characters galore make the movie an interesting ride.
Sad to say, Citizen Dog (unrated, called Mah Nakorn in it’s native language, available on DVD with English subtitles here) doesn’t quite work. The movie focuses too much on the dog aspects- in fact, the title apparently translates better as Dogville, a name unfortunately taken by another movie, one with Lars Von Trier’s own brand of surrealism. It is also a pun on ‘Godville’ the supposed translation for Thailand’s capital. Its actors aren’t quite right. This is the lead actor’s and actress’ first performance and it shows at times.
But fantastic music (Katamari Damacy-like beatboxing and a some surprisingly catchy Thai ballads), and a vibrant and complex message about modern life make it worth the plot troubles that plague the latter half of the movie. You’ll be confused by the magical reattachment of the digit detached in a sardine-packing accident. You might not understand the chain-smoking girl who looks twelve but claims she is 22 and carries around a stuffed bear that picked up her habit. You might not even get why the lead actress carries around a strange white book she cannot read and decides to solve environmental problems by creating an accidental literal mountain of plastic bottles. You’ll enjoy it anyway, as part of the magical world created by the film.
We usually keep things short and simple here, but this movie was neither and a fair review of it cannot be either. Unlike the vast majority of by-the-number flicks, or even the oddball indie films that Japan or Korea put out, this is tough film to categorize. “Save the Green Planet” comes close in some ways with its complicated created culture. Citizen Dog doesn’t serve up its kooks for kicks. The English labels on the uniforms (Maid, Taxi, Security), the former country boy returning home to find things moving in slow motion, love beginning with vigorous rubbing in a crowded bus: these things are carefully drawn and make for fascinating post-movie conversation. “Citizen Dog” isn’t always clear, but it’s a fascinating beast.