Monrak Transistor (2001)

Monrak Transistor (Transistor Love Story) reminds me of the stories we used to get from TV soaps. The setting, the characters, and mainly, for the amount of “bad luck” that befell the characters. But was it really bad luck? Wasn’t it just the choices they made? Maybe both. Pan gets drafted into the army and has to leave Sadaw, his wife, pregnant with their first child. Sadaw is left with a transistor radio, Pan’s gift to her on their wedding day. Pan writes to her every day and sings “Mai Leum” (“Never Forget”) for her, amidst a military training montage. Until one day he stops. Because he doesn’t know how to tell her that he went AWOL, and joined a pop music group in the city. If only his love for her was bigger than his dream to become a singing star. From there, the movie seamlessly transitions from bucolic rom-com, to a musical melodrama, an action movie, and tragic crime thriller. Like in that Belle & Sebastian song, Pan thought “there was love in everything and everyone.” Unlike the story in the song though, Pan didn’t succeed — not with a winning smile, not with his naivety. After years of mopping floors and toiling in prison, finally, it brings him back to where it started. Back to Sadaw. Except they aren’t the same persons anymore, not the same enamored couple we meet earlier in the movie. When they see each other again near the end, you can’t help but feel the weight of the years they spent apart, the hardships that they went through. It’s a wonderfully bittersweet ending. And like the boy in that Belle & Sebastian song — not trying to make excuses here — oh boy, do I always cry at endings.

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