True love finds a way through DV technology and vivid color, but emotional engagement gets lost, in “Citizen Dog,” Thai helmer Wisit Sasanatieng’s long-awaited follow-up to “Tears of the Black Tiger.” As with his previous film, this will be cherished by auds for whom visual smarts are everything; those who sit patiently for the episodic love story to develop into something more will wait in vain. Lacking the kitschy element that helped “Tiger” develop a small but devoted international following, “Dog” looks set to be chained to the fest circuit. Local B.O. last December was respectable.
Based on a novel by helmer’s wife, Siripan Tachajindawong (under her nom de plume Koynuch), pic has the stilted, literary feel of a series of inter-related chapters. At the center of most of the vignettes is the unrequited love country bumpkin Pod (Mahasmut Bunyaraksh) feels for self-obsessed neat-freak Jin (Sanftong Ket-U-Tong). Among Jin’s many ailments is a rash that appears whenever she catches public transport – which inspires Pod to get a job driving cabs.
Though Jin’s skin condition clears, Pod’s work places the naive guy in close proximity to a wide variety of oddballs. Digressions into the lives of these passengers gives pic a meandering quality, though each diversion is a reflection on the notion that looking for love brings unhappiness.
Most memorable in the cavalcade of characters is Baby Mam (Pattareeya Sanittwate), a 22-year-old woman who smokes like a chimney but looks like an eight-year-old (her tobacco habit is CGI). In between puffs, she constantly fights with her lover, Thongchai, a teddy bear who shares her cigarette addiction.
Meanwhile, Jin becomes obsessed with a Western hippie she mistakes for a political activist (Chuck Stephens, a Bangkok-based film critic and subtitler, in an almost wordless cameo) and subsequently dedicates her life to removing plastic from the planet. When Jin finally experiences a disillusionment that shatters her self-obsessions, she is finally ready to love.
Presumably following helmer’s instructions, Boonyaraksh and Sanfthong don’t show much depth in their performances or provide the audience with opportunities for emotional connection. As in many yarns about unrequited love, there’s also the lingering question of why anyone would be remotely interested in a shrew like Jin.
Using a deluge of narration (by well-known director Pen-ek Ratanaruang) and digital trickery, film aims for an “Amelie”-type sweetness but lacks the necessary deftness. Vivid colors and musical numbers also recall the work of late Gallic helmer Jacques Demy, though not to Sasanatieng’s credit. Rather than inviting the audience deeper into the supposed compassionate heart of the film, his eye-catching direction is affected rather than charming, leaden rather than ironic, and more interested in moving on to the next special effect than exploring the characters.
Lensing is impeccable — an excellent example of the progress made in the digital field. Soundtrack, including some chorus-like Thai rap, enlivens the proceedings, though incidental music by Amornpong Maetakunvudh borders on the insipid. Title refers to a warning given by Pod’s rural grandmother about the dangers of “growing a tail,” i.e. becoming a Bangkok-bound work slave.