Thursday, October 12, 2006

Review: 13 Beloved (13 Game Sayong)

  • Directed by Chukiat Sakweerakul
  • Written by Ekasith Thairath and Chukiat Sakweerakul
  • Starring Krissada Sukosol Clapp
  • Released in Thailand cinemas on October 5, 2006

Society’s vanity and the self-centredness of individuals is laid bare in 13 Beloved (13 Game Sayong), in which a salesman (Krissada Sukosol Clapp) is thrust into a game where he must complete a degradingly sinister series of tasks in a bid to win 100 million baht.

This not to say that the film is preachy. While it does have a message, 13 Beloved is the most intelligently entertaining film to be produced by the Thai film industry in a long while. It has all the stuff that makes me love Thai films: debilitating heartbreak, ethereal glee and bone-jarring violence - all in one movie.

For the actor, best known as Noi of the rock band Pru, 13 Beloved completes a trifecta of wacky movies, which he started with The Adventure of Iron Pussy and continued with the insane Bangkok Loco.

And, for the director, Chukiat Sakweerakul, who adapted this film from a Thai manga, 13 Beloved makes him a name to watch for. Previously, he did a loopy, low-budget ghost movie called Pisaj (Evil).

In 13 Beloved, Noi portrays Chit, a failing salesman of band instruments. After losing a big account to a rival in his firm ("You were too slow," the guy tells Chit), he wakes up the next day and finds that his car is being repossessed. Things can’t get much worse, it seems, but then he's actually fired from his job. And, it turns out that Chit is facing a pile of bills from his creditors.

Luckily, the credit on his cell phone is still good and while he's sitting in the stairwell, pondering his next move, he gets a call from a mysterious person who knows every detail about his life – where he's from, that he's lost his job, how much he owes down to the last satang. The guy on the line also knows that there’s a fly buzzing around Chit's head at that exact moment.

The voice explains that Chit can win Bt10,000. All he has to do is pick up the folded newspaper that happens to be lying nearby and swat that fly. Chit completes the task, and the phone rings again.

To win more money, he is told, he has to eat the dead fly.

Chit goes back to his desk with the fly in his hand and debates following through with the task. Then, to the shock of a co-worker and friend, Tong (Achita Wuthinounsurasit), Chit pops the fly into his mouth.

The phone rings again and Chit is informed that there's Bt100 million on offer if he completes 11 more tasks, each growing progressively more degrading and deadly. There's something far worse than a dead fly to consume, and some of the stunts take him to dark places in his memory, cleverly revealing details about his past - his upbringing and old relationships.

Chit must play the game for the entertainment of an audience he can't see, following the rules or else forfeiting all the winnings he has accumulated.

But who's behind this game, how they are monitoring Chit and where the audience watching is, remain a mystery, despite the efforts of Tong, who unbeknownst to Chit is using her computer skills to hack into the game, and unwittingly, she becomes a pawn used by the dark forces behind it.

As Chit is put through his paces, there are elements reminiscent of Michael Douglas' breakdown in Falling Down, the claustrophobic horror of Shinya Tsukamoto's Haze and the gross-out thriller Saw.

If you're one of the millions who rides a Bangkok city bus every day, you won't be too surprised by a scene where Chit gets in to a fight with a group of school-aged thugs while riding one of those rolling death traps. For me, it was like watching a something out of a dream. I like riding the bus.

And Chit's solution for dealing with those brainless punks who race their little motorcycles is intriguing. (Though it is not, it has to be said, a solution that anyone would want to see.)

In the end, there is a moral to this tale. When things finally get out of hand, and someone is killed, we're informed that it wasn't an individual who did the killing, it was all of us – we all failed the victim.

In a materialistic society, where the goal is a sleek car, an expensive watch (Chit's wearing a Tag! Why didn't he pawn it? Or, maybe it's a fake?), a hi-tech mobile phone and the instant, no-brainer thrills of reality-television and video games, it's hard to keep our focus on the real prize: simply surviving and living within our means.

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