Monday, December 5, 2011

Review: Headshot (Fon Tok Kuen Fah)

  • Directed by Pen-ek Ratanaruang
  • Starring Nopachai Jayanama, Cris Horwang, Chanokporn Sayoung, Apisit Opasaimlikit
  • Released in Thai cinemas (SF cinemas only) on November 24, 2011; rated 18+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 4/5

Pen-ek Ratanaruang has created a weirdly fractured and inverted world in his latest thriller Headshot, a.k.a. Fon Tok Kuen Fah (ฝนตกขึ้นฟ้า), literally "rain falling up to the sky".

"Peter" Nopachai Jayanama stars as Tul, a hitman whose world is literally turned upside-down after he's shot in the head - karmic hell for him because he was posing as a Buddhist monk when he did the hit.

He wakes up from a coma only to see everything flipped. He copes by upending his TV and watching nature shows, only the guy doesn't have much time to get soft on the couch. He's soon cowering from snipers who are shooting up his apartment, shattering his aquarium and leaving his goldfish gasping on the floor.

The narrative skitters and shuffles, going back and forth in time, to keep you as confused and off balance as the main character.

Tul wasn't always a hitman. But even when he was a cop, he was trapped in a web of deceit - a mere pawn in the games of the wealthy and powerful.

After refusing a briefcase full of cash to drop charges against a government minister's drug-dealing brother - an arrest that got Tul's police partner killed - he finds himself framed for the murder of a prostitute and sent to prison.

But things are not what they seem.

While locked away, he corresponds with the shadowy "Demon" (Krerkkiat Punpiputt), a pamphleteer doctor who rails against corruption. He is one of Tul's visitors in prison, and it turns out he heads a secret society of hitmen. "We prefer the term 'assassination experts'," the Demon says.

Tul refuses to join at first, but later feels he has nowhere else to turn.

It's a bleak existence for Tul, who is desperate for redemption and enlightenment. He finds it at one point, and the world feels right again, but it's fleeting.

Adapted from the short "film-noir novel" by SEA Write and Silpathorn Award laureate author Win Lyovarin, Headshot is Pen-ek's return to the hitman genre, which he previously tapped in his debut Fun Bar Karaoke and his pair of mood-drenched pan-Asian productions Last Life in the Universe and Invisible Waves.

Headshot continues the dark turn Pen-ek's been exploring in his recent films: the claustrophobic marriage drama Ploy and his forest-ghost thriller Nymph.

And it is indeed dark. The drug bust at night in a warehouse establishes that Tul has trained himself to operate in the black. His skill is put to use in a convenience store fracas. There's more action during a nighttime shootout in a rubber plantation. And, of course, it's raining.

With much of the action taking place in dimness, it's up to cinematographer Chankit Chamnivikaipong to shed a little light on the subject, and he and his supporting team of Red camera technicians are more than up to the task.

The real brightness in Headshot comes from the cast, especially leading man Nopachai, who also starred in Nymph. Here the actor is given a chance to show the lean-yet-musclebound, action-hero side he's displayed in the Naresuan movies, but with a sensitive, cerebral edge who carries his torment on the sleeve of his torn shirt.

Similar to the character in Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, Tul undergoes a transformation to become a superhero of sorts, and he somehow learns to use his upside-down outlook to his advantage.

The supporting cast adds more color, particularly model and fashion blogger Chanokporn "Dream" Sayoung, making her screen debut as Tul's artistic prostitute girlfriend. The femme fatale first turns up in a revealing pink mini-dress and Tul doesn't need much convincing to take her to a short-time hotel.

Apisit Opasaimlikit, the rapper-actor who's better known as Joey Boy, gives an oddly subdued turn as a gangster who would probably be more menacing if he wasn't dressed in tennis whites and bouncing a tennis ball. In another scene, he calmly pedals a bicycle around a warehouse, taking a break to torture Tul by dripping candle wax in a sensitive spot.

Then there's Tul's rescuing angel, Rin, played by Cris Horwang. He hijacks her car after the candlewax episode, but she remains cool while he's waving a pistol in her face, tossing off a sharp retort or two and offering a towel to wipe up his blood. Helpfully, she keeps a stash of pork rinds in her back seat, as if she knew Tul would be hungry after being tortured. She's always in the right place at the right time.

But again, things are not as they seem.

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(Cross-published in The Nation)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this review. I always look forward to a new film by Pen-ek Ratanaruang so will now eagerly await this. Interestingly, Pen-ek Ratanaruang continues with Chankit Chamnivikaipong as cinematographer. I believe Chankit Chamnivikaipong has now worked on all Pen-ek Ratanaruang's features except Last Life in the Universe and Invisible Waves. Since those two Christopher Doyle collaborations were the first films I saw by Pen-ek Ratanaruang, I wrongly assumed Doyle was the regular DOP.


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