Director: Pen-ek Ratanaruang
Starring: Suppakorn Kitsuwan, Siriyakorn Pukkavesh
Time: 115 minutes
This, the Thai candidate for the Foreign Academy
Award, has more mood changes than the life story of Elizabeth Taylor. It
is almost as if each chapter of the protagonist’s life is played out in
a different genre – musical, comedy, crime, prison, romance and melodrama.
It can take a bit of time to adjust to these swiftly changing moods, but
the ultimate picture that emerges is one of how life so rarely follows
the dreams of your youth and how sad and painful it can become. In
a very loose and much less heroic manner, the film is a poor man’s tale
of Ulysses. A young man leaves his pregnant wife for the army and then
has a series of misadventures before finally finding his way back to her.
All the way it seems as if the Gods are laughing at this fellow and playing
games with him.
Phaen is a simple country boy who has a talent
for singing and he is in a small band that plays fairs and events. One
evening he sees the lovely Sadao in the crowd and the two begin a sweet
courtship that leads eventually to marriage. This entire section is candy-flossed
romance – it feels as if the world is just one big glazed apple. Then though
he is drafted into the army and things begin going wrong (even with an
amusing musical number thrown in). He enters a talent contest and unfortunately
wins – without thinking too deeply he deserts the army to make it big in
a singing career so that he can give Sadao everything she deserves. Instead
though he finds himself cleaning floors in Bangkok for a few years – while
Sadao pines for him back in the country. The film begins taking on a fatalistic
sadness in which bad luck just seems to have its eyes set on Phaen and
we witness this genial singer’s life slowly fall apart. All he wants to
do is get back to Sadao, but instead he seems to get further and further
away from her.
It’s an odd film to watch – at times you feel
impatient with Phaen – other times you really sympathize with him and eventually
you feel broken up inside at how life has treated this sweet couple with
such whimsy. But by the end, its simplicity also says something about the
endurance of the human spirit and true love. Reacting to this film while
watching it is difficult - but it is the type of the film that has stayed
with me ever since and one that I think about often - Phaen and Sadao were
lovers; Oh, how they could love; Swore to be true to each other; Just as
true as the stars above; He was her man; But he done her wrong.
The Thai DVD and the VCD have English subs.
My rating for this film: 8.0
Reviewed by Simon Booth
I picked this movie up because it was "Voted
Thai best film of 2001" - though I had serious reservations about doing
so when I saw the severely sappy romance-indicating cover. I'm glad I decided
not to judge this one by the cover, because what's inside is so much more
than the wrapper would imply.
Pan and Sadaw are two young Thai kids growing
up in a rural Thai village. Life is good - simple, but sweet. The two find
especially large amounts of good in each other, and soon become sweethearts.
They're very much in love, and Pan even bursts spontaneously into song
to express this on occasion. Singing is Pan's other love in life, and he's
jolly good at it too. That's the part of the movie that resembles the cover
- very sweet and idyllic, but done so very nicely it is genuinely touching,
even to somebody with as little tolerance for romance as myself. It lasts
about 20 minutes As the voice-over observes, they could leave it
there and have a very short but sweet movie that would have the audience
smiling on their way to the exits. But they don't - the story continues,
and develops into something far more complex and dark.
MONRAK TRANSISTOR is in some ways a debunking
of the romantic idealism represented on the DVD case. It reminds the viewer
that life is rarely so straightforward and co-operative in the modern world.
The movie presents a far more realistic view of life and love, which makes
it much more interesting. It reminded me a little of MY SASSY GIRL in that
respect (possibly only because I rewatched MSG just before it though
It is also very well made. Writer/director
Pen-Ek Ratanaruang clearly had a strong vision of what he wanted his movie
to be like, and he directs it with precision and skill. The characters
are very well written, and brought to life by uniformly excellent performances.
Lead actress Siriyakorn Pukkavesh deserves particular mention - her performance
is one of the best I've seen. The movie is technically excellent as well
- absolutely beautiful cinematography and soundtrack. It's no surprise
to see Nonzee Nimibutr listed as producer, as he seems to be involved with
nearly all the really intelligent and high quality movies coming out of
Thailand in recent years.
The acting, cinematography and sound would be
enough to make any movie stand out, but it's the story that really puts
MONRAK TRANSISTOR at the top of the pile. It takes the characters (and
the viewer) in quite unexpected directions, creating a unique and original
movie. Nothing outlandish or bizarre happens - in fact the whole movie
feels very realistic. That's what makes it unexpected - things don't turn
out like they do in the movies
I believe MONRAK TRANSISTOR is Thailand's entry
for the Oscars this year. I don't suppose it will win, because Thailand's
movie industry isn't nearly important enough for Hollywood to want to grease
its palms. Hopefully it will get the movie onto more people's radars though,
because I think it deserves to be seen.
The Thai DVD is not bad by Thai DVD standards.
This means it's a reasonably clean non-anamorphic transfer with strong
colours. The non-removable English subtitles are very well translated but
occasionally disappear against light backgrounds. The soundtrack is beautifully
mixed in 5.1 too. It is of course PAL though, which hopefully most of you
can handle. The VCD comes with English subtitles.