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Phaen is a suburban young man with a great love for music. He never misses a chance to show off his voice at temple fairs in his village. It is at one of the fairs that he meets and falls in love with Sadao. On their wedding day, Phaen gives Sadao a transistor radio that the new family loves, and it also gives Phaen many a daydream of becoming a famous singer himself. Soon, Sadao is pregnant and it is hard for Phaen to leave home, but he has to enter military service. While there, he enters a singing contest, and winds up first runner-up. So he decides to leave the service and heads for Bangkok to follow his dream. He spends two years in a band that never goes anywhere, and eventually is forced to work in a sugarcane plantation. But a fight causes him to lose his job. As things go from bad to worse, he recalls his transistor radio with fondness, for it evokes in his mind much better and more peaceful times, when dreams were still possible. Written by
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 artwork, which makes it look like a terribly sugary romance. 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 DVD 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 the exceptional Korean movie 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.
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