Citizen Dog Review
Citizen Dog is the new film from Wisit Sasanatieng, the Thai director of the colourfully camp, visually striking, genre-hopping Tears Of The Black Tiger. The director’s extraordinary visual sensibility and willingness to have fun with his subjects, disregarding any kind of naturalistic element whatsoever, is even more evident in Citizen Dog, but what is likely to strike most people watching the film is the debt it owes to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie.
The hero of Citizen Dog - although the film is rather wary of describing the young man in such terms – is called Pod (Mahasamut Boonyaruk). A country bumpkin, a man without a dream and scarcely a thought in his head, Pod makes his way to the big city of Bangkok, and despite the warning from his grandmother that he will end up growing a tail if he starts working there, he finds himself employed at a sardine-canning factory. He doesn’t grow a tail and become one of the mass-produced regular (regular?) Bangkok ‘citizen dogs’, but he does lose a finger during an unfortunate incident. Fortunately, he recovers a missing digit some time later, tapping away by itself in a can of sardines in a local store. The finger actually belongs to Yod, who lost one in a similar accident, but the two men soon rectify the mistake and are reunited with their own index fingers. Due to the incident the two men become firm finger buddies.
Pod has many such surreal incidents in his time in Bangkok meeting a great number of unusual and eccentric characters such as Kong, the living-dead motorbike taxi driver, killed during a rainstorm of helmets. But it’s when he becomes a taxi driver himself that Pod gets to see just how strange the world outside is, meeting characters like Baby Mam, a young lady who looks much younger than her age (or maybe acts much older than she looks), who travels with her much abused and mistreated talking teddy Thongchai, and a lost man who has the unfortunate and disgusting habit of licking every surface in his environment.
Most significantly, Pod meets and falls in love with Jin (Saengthong Gate-Uthong), a rather unusual girl who works as a cleaning lady. Her life has been changed by the discovery of a book in a white cover, written in a language she cannot read. Nevertheless she pores over the book constantly, convinced that when she works out what it says, that it will change her life. Her life takes another turn however when she sees an environmental activist, Peter, who owns a similar book with a white cover. Bearing more than a passing resemblance to a certain Amélie Poulain (a factor in the casting clearly more important than having any acting ability), Jin likewise believes she has found her calling, and it is to make the world a better place. But her strange mannerisms and the fantastic flights of her imagination could stop her from recognising the reality of the fact that Pod is in love with her.
Sadly, it’s a similar detachment from any kind of reality that is the undoing of Citizen Dog. Visually it is astonishing - constantly inventive, you never know what you will see on the screen next, but it will almost certainly be unique, surprising and vividly colourful. Lovely as it is to look at, it is never enough to keep the viewer interested in the absence of anything resembling a plot or even real characters. For all their agglomeration of quirks and eccentricities, Pod and Jin are unfortunately devoid of anything like a personality and are actually very bland characters, who the viewer is likely to find more stupid than sympathetic. Without any real people or any real plotline, the director simply bombards the viewer with one astonishing sequence of image or digital trickery after the next, trying so very hard to impress and distract the viewer by sleight of hand that there is actually very little of substance to be gained from what in the end amounts to little more than an episodic compendium of music promo-video tricks and special effects.
Citizen Dog is released in Hong Kong by Asia Video Publishing. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc in NTSC format and is not region encoded
The quality of the video transfer is of utmost importance on a film where there is such an emphasis on the visual aspect, and fortunately, the Hong Kong AVP release is very impressive indeed. Colours are remarkably vivid and perfectly saturated, positively leaping off the screen and searing your eyes. The world is going to look a much duller place for a while after you watch this DVD. The transfer is resolutely stable, with no marks, scratches or compression artefacts. The only issue here is some rather fierce edge enhancement, a little bit of edge bleed and a tiny bit of shimmer, which in some scenes rather intrudes on the otherwise perfection of the transfer.
The worst thing I can say about the soundtrack is that it is not Dolby Digital 5.1. A plain stereo track is clearly insufficient for a film like this, which in addition to the busyness of its production has quite a number of musical interludes and a ridiculously catchy theme song, all of which would certainly benefit from a surround mix. It’s baffling why one has not been included here. The Dolby Digital 2.0 is however clear and robust enough, with only some minor strain on higher registers.
Optional English subtitles are included in a white font, and are clear and readable. There are only one or two minor typos early in the film, but the larger part of the film appears to be well translated and grammatically sound.
A long Behind-The-Scenes (42:09) is the principal extra feature here. It’s made up of interviews with the cast and crew and lots of clips from the film. Although the quality is poor – it seems like it was videotaped off the television – it has fixed English subtitles and is relatively informative, talking about the origin of the ideas and how they were developed into a novel before being made into a film. The director talks about the themes and how the visual appearance was achieved, while the inexperienced actors – an indie pop star and a model – talk about how they approached their characters. You’ll also find the trailer and a couple of music videos included in this feature, though with the constant clips of scenes from the film, it does become quite repetitive after a while. The Trailer (2:11) is included separately, and with a film like this, inevitably, it’s quite striking.
Let’s not however be too hard on Citizen Dog for its indebtedness to Amelie. It’s difficult not to be in thrall to the unique visual language of that film - even Jean-Pierre Jeunet found himself remaking it when he came to filming A Very Long Engagement, going similarly over-the-top with digital trickery and forgetting to include anything like a personality for his characters. Putting that aside, there is much to admire in Citizen Dog and the simplicity of its belief in the power of following your dreams, but not to the point where it blinds you to the good things in the real world. With an abundance of richness, everyone will have their own favourite eccentric character or sequence in the film, but sadly, like an over-long music video (think Spike Jonz’s video for Bjork’s ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ stretched out to an hour and a half long), its ultimately empty and superficial charm wears off surprisingly quickly. The Hong Kong DVD release from AVP presents the film with the kind of transfer it deserves, and even English-subtitled extra features - and for those fine visual qualities alone Citizen Dog is certainly worth a viewing.