Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 6:30 PM
Center for Korean Studies Auditorium
Thailand (2011, 105 min)
Thai w/English subtitles
Director: Pen-ek Ratanaruang
Cinematography: Chankit Chamnivikaipong
Film Editing: Patamanadda Yukol
Cast: Nopachai Chaiyanam, Sirin Horwang, Chanokporn Sayoungkul
This “Buddhist film noir,” as writer-director Pen-ek Ratanaruang calls it, is surprisingly slow-moving and soulful for a film full of double-crosses and cold-blooded killing. Zigzagging back and forth in time, it follows cool-guy Tul (Nopachai Chaiyanam) from a fairly mindless life of instinct and action to that Zen state Cesar Millan calls “calm submissive.”
Tul’s short, intense life includes some pretty dramatic switchbacks-from cop to prisoner (he’s framed by a drug lord when he wouldn’t take a bribe to drop a case against him) to hit man (or, as the man who hires him prefers to say, “assassination expert”) to monk. Ironically, the thing that finally sets him on the right path is a shot in the head, which leaves him seeing everything upside down. We see things from his perspective, but only fleetingly-just enough to convey a sense of how disorienting it would be to live that way, but not enough to be headache-inducing. That literal change in perspective leads to a metaphysical one, as he loses his taste for killing.
Ratanaruang, a star of the Thai new wave, drenches his film in classic noir style, filling it full of shadows and rain and often placing splashes of white or bright color against a dark backdrop. Ratanaruang and his riveting star keep the focus on Tul’s state of mind while the camera prowls like a big cat, closing in on its subject with slow, steady pans and zooms as if inviting you into his head. And so, while the betrayals and bloody murders Tul weathers or commits are vividly portrayed, they never feel like more than temporary roadblocks in his journey to enlightenment.
– Elise Nakhnikian, Slant Magazine