‘Monrak Transistor’ Review

Monrak TransistorThailand. 116 minutes.
Megastar DVD. NTSC. Region 3.
Directed by Pen-Ek Ratanaraug
With Supakorn Kitsuwan, Siriyakorn Pukkavesh, Somlek Sakdikul

By a plot description of its first 28 minutes, MONRAK TRANSISTOR (aka TRANSISTOR LOVE STORY) sounds like a thousand other romantic comedies, but from that point on it departs into more ambitious waters.

Sadaw (Siriyakorn Pukkavesh) is a simple country girl. She is swept off her feet by the romantic gestures of Pan (Supakorn Kitsuwan), a simple boy who loves to sing. Their courtship — though not initially approved of by Sadaw’s stern, shotgun-wielding father — is depicted with gentle energy and framed with classic Thai melodies.

If it stopped there, it would be a happy short film. And that’s a point acknowledged by the narrator, a prison guard to whom we are introduced in the first scene, as he relates various romantic episodes of Pan and Sadaw in flashback.

MONRAK TRANSISTOR aims to tell a larger story, though. What it really wants is to push beyond the traditional “happy ending” to explore how difficult it is to maintain a storybook romance when dealing with real life.

While the ambition can be admired, it doesn’t succeed completely I’m not afraid of melodrama — some of my favorite films embrace it heartily — but here it’s accompanied by a subsequent dilution of dramatic tension, dwelling too long on points that have already been made.

The first part of the film, the somewhat traditional romantic comedy, fairly bursts with good feelings and swiftly-paced episodes. It even plays with the inclusion of scenes influenced by Hollywood musicals. Sadly, the eventual narrative slowdown is accompanied by the dawning realization that Pan allows himself to be acted upon much more than he takes action himself.

It’s hard to maintain sympathy for such a character when he keeps making bad decisions. If we attribute this to fate, well, it deals him many bad hands, and he appears resigned to it. It doesn’t help that we are restricted to just a few glimpses of Sadaw’s life without her man — not that her life appears any more appealing.

A musical montage near the end brings the mood up a touch. All things considered, maybe I’m not the best audience for this type of film.

Still, it can’t be denied that the accomplishments of the film are considerable. And the visual sense displayed by the director throughout — the often elegant framing, meaningful camera movements, and the like — keeps the viewer engaged even when the story flags.

* Background *

Director Pen-Ek Ratanaraug’s third film made a splash on the festival circuit, begining with Cannes in 2002 and continuing into the following year, when LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE was released. That film received a nominal theatrical release after its numerous festival dates. The director’s second effort, 6IXTY9INE, had set the stage at Rotterdam in 2000 before hitting a number of other major festivals, and has subsequently been released on Region 1 DVD. His debut, FUN BAR KARAOKE, played at Berlin in 1997.

His latest, INVISIBLE WAVES, is currently filming and is set for release late this year or early next.

* DVD Notes *

The picture quality is OK. It fares better with the more colorful first portion of the movie, and then falters with the reduction in colors.

The only audio track provided is the original language, Thai, in DD 2.0, which gets the job done.

The removable English-language subtitles are easy to read and well-timed. Also included are traditional and simplified Chinsese subtitles.

An international sales trailer is included, along with a story recap, main credit listing, and a text guide to the proper settings for the anamorphic video.

Another DVD version is available from Thai company Mongkok. It requires PAL conversion, but is Region 0. Reportedly it includes DD 5.1 audio with non-removable English subtitles.

* Recommendation *

My reservations reflect what is evidently a minority opinion, as most other reviewers have been much more positive. Definitely worth a rental, and maybe a puchase if you’re inclined toward tales of bittersweet, melodramatic ambition and everlasting romance.

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