Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review: Friday Killer

  • Directed by Yuthlert Sippapak
  • Starring Thep Po-ngam, Ploy Jindachote
  • Released in Thai cinemas on September 29, 2011; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

There are Yuthlert Sippapak films and there are Yuthlert Sippapak films. Some are slight and best forgotten, like Bangkok Kung Fu earlier this year, while others are sublime and ought to be remembered.

The hitman drama Friday Killer (Ma Kae Untarai, หมาแก่อันตราย, "dangerous dog") firmly belongs in the latter category. It's pure Yuthlert and his trademark blend of genres – comedy, drama and action – with plenty of cheeky references to his own films and other movies. There's also his trademark casting of comedians in dramatic roles.

Part of Yuthert's Mue Puen 3-Pak trilogy of hitman films pairing veteran comedians with younger actresses, for awhile it seemed like Friday Killer would be forgotten after it premiered more than a year ago at the Phuket Film Festival but was then shelved and the second entry in the series Saturday Killer was released first. Meanwhile, Friday Killer made the rounds at a few other film festivals and even won awards.

The bald comic Thep Po-ngam stars. He plays much the same role as he did in Yuthlert's debut film Killer Tattoo, an ageing assassin. Here, he's Pay Uzi, who at one time was famed as "the Eagle of Chanthaburi". He's let out of prison after a lengthy term only to be repeatedly stabbed right outside the prison gate by butterfly-knife specialist Lek Bowie (Akhom Pridakun, in a refreshing change of pace from his geeky romantic comedy roles).

Circumstances lead to the bleeding ex-con to being discovered in the nick of time by his policewoman daughter Dao (Ploy Jindachote), only she doesn't understand he is her father. The travesty of this misunderstanding is further compounded when Pay Uzi is fingered for a crime he did not commit. Involving Dao's dying mother (Viyada Umarin), the man she thinks is her father (Kowit Wattanakul) and a photographer named Petch (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk), it's a breathtaking combination of tragic events that will raise eyebrows.

Pay Uzi meanwhile returns to his hometown of Chanthaburi, a sleepy seaside provincial capital. He attempts to secure his former abode, but finds it occupied by a mentally deranged man who is obsessed with Quentin Tarantino's movies. He dresses in yellow tracksuit like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill (and like Bruce Lee in Game of Death) and his walls are covered with Japanese swords. Later, a shocking scene from Pulp Fiction is re-enacted.

Pay looks up old colleagues from his hitman days, with an aim to secure an assignment.

He trades hilariously cutting insults with a rude cross-eyed woman, which puts him in conflict with the lady's male friends – a gang of ghost-faced killers who tie Pay Uzi to a chair and dump water on him.

The bullets from his Uzi fly. Among Pay Uzi's targets is a political gathering, where a kingpin's henchmen are handing out money for votes.

This puts the ageing gunman in deepening conflict with the political boss of Chanthaburi (Anek Inthachan).

His problems are further compounded by failing eyesight, and his eye doctor is a close friend of the political kingpin.

Policewoman Dao, meanwhile, is on the trail of Pay Uzi. She still doesn't know he's her father. And, despite her tough demeanor and battle-ready wardrobe of close-cropped hair, tight black jeans, leather jacket and big motorcycle, she is conflicted about her chosen profession because she's never killed a criminal and doesn't believes she'd ever be able to pull the trigger.

There are confusing digressions involving another ageing gunman (Udom Chuanchuen), who's interviewed by a young reporter ("Pe" Arak Amornsupasiri) at his Volkswagen-bus bar in a spookily abandoned housing estate. And there are various other assassins, including the Saturday Killer pair of Cris Horwang and Choosak Iamsuk. In fact, the movie is peppered with cameos, including singer Ad Carabao and the lively rap group Buddha Bless. Even the late Boonthin Thuaykaew puts in one last appearance, portraying a police sketch artist alongside his partner in crimefighting "Uncle" Adirek Watleela.

Eventually, there's a shootout in the political boss' giant Chinese-Thai-style mansion, and the confrontation between father and daughter.

Despite all the gunfire and madcap craziness, there's a deliberate, calm feel to the movie, which is anchored by a strong dramatic performance from veteran comedian Thep, ably portraying the hitman with failing eyesight, whose chance at a better life and redemption has long slipped away.

Ploy Jindachote ably supports the proceedings as the black-clad policewoman, channeling the stoic Gary Cooper in High Noon by way of Sharon Stone in The Quick and the Dead.

With the setting of the dusty provincial capital and the surrounding saline plains, Friday Killer has the feel of an old western, especially those of Sam Peckinpah, in particular his Ride the High Country, about ageing gunmen on their last go 'round. Not only is Friday Killer a wistful ode to an assassin who's seen better days, it could also be seen as a tribute to the old ways of showbiz, which have faded in the new fast-paced era of reality TV and streaming movies on the Internet.

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