2006/Feb/05

It's a dog's life

Well-meaning kids' flick by debut director fails to entertain

In "Khao Niew Moo Ping", things start to get stale when the dogs are pushed back to play a secondary role to their keepers.

01In "Khao Niew Moo Ping", things start to get stale when the dogs are pushed back to play a secondary role to their keepers.

: Moo Ping the mutt is a cute brown thing all right, though it won't make the cut into the cinematic canine's hall of fame like Benji, Lassie, Beethoven or some of those impudent 101 Dalmatians. What's most disappointing about Khao Niew Moo Ping, a well-meaning kid's flick starring award-winning 11-year-old Nawarat Techaratanaprasert, is how it doesn't register as a lively, energetic joyride. The film seems sapped of vitality, and after an hour most kids would feel as bored as trying to finish tedious homework.

Khao Niew Moo Ping, (A Bite of Love) , Starring Nawarat Techaratanaprasert, Patcharasri Benjamas, Chalermpon Tikampronteerawong, Directed by Siwaporn Kongsuwan

Former film critic Siwaporn Kongsuwan approached her directorial debut with weariness rather than excitement, with scripted rigour rather than cool spontaneity. The opening montage, showing a stray bitch baffled by the twinkling glares of downtown Bangkok, has a quality of poetic realism that unfortunately the rest of the film doesn't attempt to sustain. We see the dog sneaking behind a corrugated fence to feed her puppies, one of them Moo Ping of the title. In most dog flicks, it's always more enjoyable watching the canine than watching the human actors - perhaps because even trained dogs act with instinct that human performers can't imitate. In Khao Niew Moo Ping, things start to get stale when the dogs are pushed back to play a secondary role to their keepers.

The film pitches a potentially serious allegory: stray dogs and stray kids suffer the same cruel fate on Bangkok's roads. Moo Ping, orphaned after his mother crossed the street without looking and got killed, teams up with Kao Niew (Nawarat), a young girl who's orphaned first by her mum's irresponsibility then by her relatives' indifference.

For a while the movie follows the classical formula of a Disney picture, in which a troubled child forms a deep bond with his/her animal. Kao Niew secretly takes Moo Ping to her school, plays with him while the teacher is doing a roll call, sneaks into an empty gym to chase the dog around, and so on and so forth. At home, Kao Niew lives with her abominable aunties after her slutty mother left. One of the aunties is played by TV personality Patcharasri Benjamas (aka Kalamae), in a performance that should guarantee that no conscientious director will hire her in a movie ever again. Of course, the aunties disapprove of having a puppy in their house, and one day they simply take Moo Ping away and leave him to his fate at a suburban temple.

From here onwards the script is as lost as an abandoned mutt. I don't think it's a good idea to separate the two main protagonists, Kao Niew and Moo Ping, at the film's mid-point, and their reunion, which every child in the theatre would naturally expect, doesn't come until the final 10 minutes. But the movie chooses to pursue another storyline that's much less engaging, not to say extraordinarily unconvincing: Desperate to find Moo Ping, our young Kao Niew leaves her aunties' home and starts a new life roaming the streets as a garland-seller, with the help of an older boy Kao Din (Chalermpon Tikampronteerawong from Fan Chan). That a little girl from a middle-class home should suddenly stop going to school and start selling 20-baht garlands is highly improbable, and any social critique the film might contain becomes trifling. Because Nawarat recently won the Subannahongsa's best actress award amid rife controversy, all eyes will be fixed on her turn as the tomboyish Kao Niew in this movie produced, like the one from which she won the acting kudos, by her father's studio.

Any attempt to find faults with her performance here would be futile, but then any attempt to detect her exceptional brilliance as a child actress will not yield any convincing result either. Maybe we need to see her in more movies, which I (and everybody in the industry) am certain we will.

Khao Niew Moo Ping is the first Thai film of 2006, and it fails to lift the hope that mainstream filmmaking will improve from the dismal 2005. If it were only up to the dogs we would have higher hopes, but because it's not, the next 11 months will be a busy time for doomsayers who always expect the worst.



Kong Rithdee

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