Tuesday, January 18, 2005

6ixtynin9 in 6eattl9 - and beyond

Ruang Talok 69, or 6ixtynin9, a 1999 crime thriller by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, has been playing in the Seattle area. It's encouraging to see a resurgence in interest in this film, before it is remade.

I'm hoping my local arthouse cinema here in Bangkok will screen it, along with Fun Bar Karaoke - two Pen-Ek films I've not yet seen.

And now, it's available on DVD from Amazon.

Here's what Seattle Weekly had to say about it:

"I'm lucky," says Tum (Lalita Panyopas), an attractive young Bangkok secretary, but she's being ironic, having just been fired from her job. Returning home, however, she discovers a box full of cash that changes her fortunes and creates a growing number of corpses in her apartment. Who's the killer? Surely not the meek, mousy Tum, right? Well . . . let's just say the girl discovers some hidden resources while caught between two incompetent criminal gangs. This low-key 1999 black comedy by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang recalls Into the Night and Apartment Zero as Tum is led into darker and darker territory during the course of one long day. It's "just like a movie," exclaims one friend, and 6ixtynin9 does indeed feels assembled from other movies. (The title of this SIFF favorite from 2001 refers to Tum's flipping apartment number, not to your smutty thoughts.) While lacking one outstanding scene or a big climax, the leisurely film does maintain an amusingly drab, deadpan comic tone throughout, plus a wealth of colorful supporting characters.

And the Seattle Times:

Bangkok is in an economic crisis at the beginning of "6ixtynin9," a stylish, deadpan thriller from director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang. A group of blue-blazered secretaries at an unnamed financial corporation draw straws to find out which three are being laid off; an elevator at the apartment building of Ms. Tum (Lalita Panyopas), the last woman fired, is out of order (even the "Out of Order" sign, which lies dirty on the floor, is out of order); and the number on her apartment door, "6," keeps slipping into a "9."

It's this last detail that proves the most important. Shocked by her sudden dismissal, Tum walks dazed through the rest of her day. The economy stinks, she doesn't have much money, she resorts to shoplifting. At home, she contemplates suicide by drinking cleaning supplies. The next morning, she finds a noodle box filled with 1 million baht outside her door — left there, we find out later, because of the 6/9 mix-up.

At first she doesn't know what to do; the money's obviously not legit. This becomes painfully clear when two bruisers show up — one young and good-looking in a neck brace, the other pockmarked and pony-tailed, both wearing warm-up suits emblazoned with "Kanchit's Thai Boxing" on the back.

When the two deadpan thugs begin to argue over which brand of noodles is imprinted on the box, you suddenly realize we're verging into Pulp Fiction territory. These are the quirky-but-deadly variety of crooks. Less proficient than Quentin Tarantino's bad guys, they are just as prone to calamitous happenstance.

Before long, they're dead. Before long, more bodies are piling up in Tum's apartment.

Their boss is Kanchit (Black Phomtong), a fat Buddhist who lovingly combs his long hair and runs a kickboxing dojo where his students/gangsters, all clad in the same warm-up suit, sport bloody bandages. The next two flunkies he sends to Tum's apartment include a deaf kickboxer who answers phones.

Although everyone around Tum is absurd in some fashion, she is not, and that's one of the movie's strengths. Her stunned, halting reactions, as she finds herself in the middle of a gang war, ground the picture. Her point of view is often surreal, but in a real way.

But it's Ratanaruang's stylish direction that recommends the movie. From the first shot, a silent close-up of a woman's face, we know we're in the hands of someone talented and assured. Ratanaruang knows which detail to place in the foreground (a ringing phone) and which to let us search for in the background (a Princess Di coffee mug). His colors are vivid and pure under "natural" lighting and sickly under low-grade fluorescence. The soundtrack is uncluttered. Clocks tick. Birds chirp sweetly after people die. The pace is unhurried.

There is a plan to remake "6ixtynin9" in Hollywood, with Jim Fall (The Lizzie McGuire Movie) directing. Be the coolest person on your block and see this one first.

And the Seattle Post Intelligencer:

The critical success of Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's lovely Last Life in the Universe has encouraged the belated release of his sophomore feature (which played at SIFF back in 2001). 6ixtynin9 has been described as Tarantino-esque and it's an apt comparison. Ingeniously engineered, self-consciously clever and directed with snazzy style, it's played as a violent black comedy with often-gruesome punch lines.

Mousy, meek Tum (Lalita Panyopas) has just been downsized from her secretarial job practically at random (she drew the short straw) and reduced to shoplifting her dinner from a local market. Just as randomly, a small fortune in small bills stuffed in a suitcase is dropped off at her door.

It's a mistake, of course. The number 6 on her apartment door keeps slipping down into a 9, which just happens to be the apartment number of a shady fight promoter and a pair of thugs returns to rectify their mistake. They bat her around until the mouse roars and fights back, improbably killing the two and frantically searching for some place in her little room to stash the corpses.

As she makes plans to flee the country with her fortune, a parade of brutal gangsters, corrupt cops and nosy neighbors converge on her tiny studio. Tum transforms from retiring victim to ferocious survivor as she masters the art of scrubbing a murder scene clean of blood and corpses and her apartment gets a lot more crowded.

Ratanaruang never quite reconciles the jaunty tone with the ruthless nihilism and Panyopas' Tum remains something of a blank, a corrupted innocent at the center of a cast of larger-than-life eccentrics.

More interesting is the culture around it -- a depressed, desperate world that makes this fortune all the more attractive. It's Tum's way out of an existence that has beaten the hope out of her, but as each casualty makes her more desperate and determined, it also saps a little life from her.

Although 6ixtynin9 doesn't really offer the audience anyone to root for, the vivid figures in an overcrowded, underemployed, bleak urban landscape remain fascinating, if only for the cruel humor of their fates.

6ixtynin9 is also available in New York, notes the New York Post:

There are multiple references to Psycho, but the director, Pen-ek Ratanaruang, whose Last Life in the Universe had a theatrical run here last year, told Cine File that he was more influenced by the Coens' Fargo.

Oh, yes. The title has to do with the number on the door of the unfortunate woman's apartment, not what you might think.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

1 comment:

  1. The strangest thing about this wonderful film is that noone seems to know anything about its soundtrack.
    And we're not talking about a 1950s film here - why is that ?


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