My favourite Thai director is Wisit Sasanatieng, who has brought us movies like Tales of the Black Tiger, The Unseeable, and Citizen Dog, which ranks highly on my list of must-watchs. Then there is his good friend (they work in the same company) Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, who has made waves with his award winning arthouse films, but in an attempt to familiarize with Pen-Ek's works at the time, his Invisible Waves gave me a rude shock. In wanting to get another opinion of his works, I'm not sure when his latest movie Ploy will make its debut here, so I'm forced to dig into his past filmography, and found Monrak Transistor.
And guess what? I am liking it! I find it now quite peculiar that the styles used in both films are vastly different. With one, I hated it to the core for its ambiguity which I equate to plain laziness, but on the other, I liked this one for the simpleness in the story it told, perhaps due to some bias that I somehow liked the romance this story had, which reminded me of Citizen Dog. While Monrak Transistor was out chronologically first, I could see shades of Citizen Dog in it - the star crossed lovers, the colours (though not in a Sasanatieng sort of manner), the journey of misadventures when the hero goes from village to the big city, and of course, the very hummable music, here being a track called "Never" (I'm guessing).
The tragedy that unfolds on the star crossed lovers Pan (Supakorn Kitsuwon) and Sadaw (Siriyakorn Pukkavesh) is nothing short of Fate being so cruel, to keep them apart and to throw adversary and obstacles into their reconciliation. Pan is the village folk singer who dreams of being renowned one day, though when Love comes knocking, some aspirations do get to be put on hold as he chases after Sadaw, in many a sweet scene such as the early one at the funfair. Eventually he marries Sadaw, and as a wedding gift, provides his wife with a transistor radio (hence the title). As the narrator puts it, if the movie were to end here, it would make a decent short film.
But there's when Pan discovers he is Fortune's fool, as the first obstacle comes in the form of an army conscription. And from that point on, everything goes downhill for Pan (and not the movie) as his separation from Sadaw makes him do silly things, and lead to many misadventures, involving, just to put some down as a flavour, his accidental AWOL from army, being exploited by the boss of a performing company, thrust into a labouring community, and getting into a short lived life of crime because of the wrong company he mixes with.
The journey is peppered with a multitude of songs, and split into chapters that makes the entire narrative resemble a radio programme. But there are always unanswered questions, like why it didn't occur to Pan to continue writing to his wife to assure her of his whereabouts, or why Sadaw didn't take it upon herself to look up Pan in the first place. There are a number of why-didn'ts, but do not let that mar your enjoyment of this bittersweet tale of the follies of men, and the seeking of redemption. The ending just makes you cry, or perhaps I'm being too sentimental? Talk about giving up hope after fruitless years of longing and waiting. Supakorn Kitsuwon and Siriyakorn Pukkavesh are extremely easy on the eyes, and make believable lovers, with both displaying an air of strength and filled with naivety, at different points in time in their relationship.
So has my opinion on Pen-Ek changed? Definitely, but I suppose straightforward narrative stories like this one is something that he's not been making of late, if I read the signs correctly. Nonetheless, I'm interested to see some more of his earlier works like Fun Bar Karaoke and 6ixtynin9. Oh, and while Citizen Dog had Pen-Ek providing the narration, Monrak Transistor had Wisit's Tale of the Black Tiger featured prominently in an outdoor theatre scene, watch for it!
P.S. for those interested to know about Wisit Sasanatieng's latest work, click on this link to find out more about Red Eagle, starring Ananda Everingham! I can't wait!
The Code 3 DVD from Mega Star Video Distribution (Hong Kong) is scant on the extras, sadly. For a movie with nice musical numbers, the menus are surprisingly quiet, with no animations nor songs to complement it. Visual transfer is a bit soft, but nonetheless flawless in anamorphic widescreen presentation, and audio only in the original Thai language presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. Subtitles are available in English, traditional and simplified Chinese.
If these can be counted as extras, then you have scene selection available over 12 chapters, The Story which is a two page English and Traditional Chinese synopsis of the storyline, the Trailer (2:05) comes with spoiler unfortunately, so make sure you watch the movie first, a one page Casts and Credits listing, and text instructions on how to set up the Anamorphic format in the DVD Player!