In the wake of other Asian countries, Thailand lived through a small yet vivid period of international interest at the start of this millennium. Some very fresh and unique films reached our shores because of that, of which Mah Nakorn is definitely one of the most impressive and memorable. Mah Nakorn put Wisit Sasanatieng on the map and even though he made some other interesting films, none of them has been able to match the magic of this one.
While Sasanatieng's Tears of the Black Tiger proved to be a little too inaccessible for most people, he improved himself considerably when he released Mah Nakorn (Citizen Dog). While stylistically just as kitschy and in-your-face as his first, Mah Nakorn exists well outside the realm of typical genre films, which apparently had a big impact on the expectations of people seeking out this film. The fact that it is quite difficult to compare Mah Nakorn to other films out there also helped to relieve people of their initial preconceptions. There is definitely a bit of Amélie-inspired magic in here, but apart from that it's a film that stands completely on its own and doesn't invite many other comparisons.
Mah Nakorn doesn't really stick to a well-defined storyline. We follow Pod and Jin and their evolving relationship, but along the way the film diverges in several little side stories, introducing a range of secondary characters and plot lines that have little to do with the main story arc. It sometimes feels as if Sasanatieng had a bunch of great ideas for shorts, but instead of taking the short film route he tied all those ideas together to his two main characters and made a unique film with all the material he had gathered.
The world of Mah Nakorn definitely looks like ours, but it has its own, random set of rules. 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. It's definitely part of the charm of Mah Nakorn, but as there is really no limit to what can happen it may be a bit tiring for some.
If there's anything that will stick with you after watching this film, it's the vibrant and contrasting colors Sasanatieng uses all over his compositions. Sure it's kitsch and at times it looks as if God's brush slipped and he didn't have time to correct his errors, but at the same time it gives the film an unflinching charm that goes very well with the humorous tone. There's quite a lot of CG used to create the wacky world of Mah Nakorn, technically it's not always up to par but it does result in some beautiful scenes and it somehow fits with the comical feel of the film.
The soundtrack is pretty awesome too. A combination of classical and modern Thai pop songs, it gives the film a very alien atmosphere. People who are used to listening to Thai pop music might experience this differently of course, but for me it all sounded quite outlandish. The music is also used to great comedic effect, case in point the hilariously off-key lipsync in the introductory minutes of the film.
The acting is decent, but it must be said that most actors have a pretty easy job here. Sasanatieng does most of the hard work making the comedy work, the actors are little more than mere puppets walking around in Sasanatieng's meticulously crafted world. The same goes for the secondary characters who have even less to do. They all fit their roles though and the acting is never second-grade, nor does it ever take away from the overall experience of the film.
If you don't like narration in films, mind that there is quite a lot of that here. Great little detail though: the narration is done by none other than Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (director of Nymph and Ruang Talok 69) and he does a pretty commendable job. The monologues are witty and well-written too, on top of that I actually quite like narration in films (if done well of course - no Morgan Freeman please).
In essence Mah Nakorn is a romantic comedy, but that label doesn't even begin to describe the vibrant, unique, funny and creative film that Sasanatieng whipped up. The film is filled to the brim with great ideas, properly executed and acted out with so much enthusiasm that it's definitely one of the best comedies I've ever seen. And even though the story itself might be rather detached and fragmented, the romance between Pod and Jin still survives all these typical hardships.
If you're looking for something light-hearted, fun and visually exuberant then Mah Nakorn is your film. It's a lovely little comedy with a lot of heart, a lot of warmth and plenty of interesting and original ideas. It might be a bit random and episodic at times, but if you can look past that you might be in for a very pleasant surprise. And if all else fails, you can still amuse yourself trying to comprehend how Sasanatieng came up with all these crazy color combinations. Warmly recommended.