Tuesday, 26 June 2007

13 Beloved (13 เกมสยอง) (2007)

Deal or no deal?

Released everywhere else under the title of 13 Beloved, this Thai psychological thriller comes to Singapore as 13 Game of Death, probably because the distributors thought Singaporean moviegoers need less subtle movie titles to flock to cinemas. Don't be mistaken, though - this is not an action movie; you won't see Bruce Lee; and you shouldn't expect to see any character in a yellow tracksuit running about here. Instead, it would be helpful to think of this movie as the Thai version of The Game, and more useful, in fact, to realise that it's just about as decently made and conceptualised as a commercial Thai movie can get.

The setup, allowing for certain updates and cultural changes, is the same as The Game: it's a psychological thriller with Krissada Kukosol in the Michael Douglas role, willingly participating in a mysterious game even though he's not too aware of its details. And like The Game, central character Puchit finds himself forced to complete tasks that often find him reenacting unpleasant memories from his childhood and troubled relationship with his father, with each task regressing him further into either pure childhood Id or into pure animalism.

You might be thinking now - why watch this if you've already watched Michael Douglas get his mind toyed with so brilliantly in The Game? For one, I think director Sakveerakul and author Thairaat have tried their fair share of updating the concept of The Game for modern audiences - think of it as a highly secretive reality game show staged for the benefit of persons unknown.

So perhaps you would be wondering instead - have the director and author enough planned out for the 13 labours of Putchit? Perhaps realising that having 13 traumatic memories for their hero would be too much of a stretch, the team decides to mix several things in - which creates an at times incoherent product that doesn't quite mesh at all. Half of the trials may be about toying with Putchit's childhood memories, but the other half is just plain exploitation film, where for some reason, Putchit gets to beat up beggars, teenage delinquent gangsters, abusive rock singer boyfriends, and bikers. I'm sure this is a failed attempt at social commentary - recognisably social problems are raised without the director/writer asking the right questions, giving real answers, or even just riffing along or even minimally recognising that they've moved on to the Blackburn or Falling Down style revanchist satire.

The slightly better attempts at social commentary may not be all that noticeable if audiences aren't clued in about the specifically Thai culture of conspicuous consumption and ostentatious spending beyond one's means, the dynamics of typical lower class families, and so on. However, some of the social commentary can get out of hand, resulting in the morally smug tone of amateur Singaporean short films, with their over the top, overemotionalised focus on the plight of the old, the unravelling of family ties, and the generation gap. Yet, before you know it, there's a huge hamfisted denouncement of Thai society and the hypocrisy of the average citizen in the form of a speech.

I imagine this film being remade under the far more capable hands of Park Chan-wook, or being far more focused and tight if its editor had tried harder to rein in the meanderings of the director and writer. At 13 trials, it seems that both director and writer lost focus of their essence of their story and got too easily sidetracked, barking up the wrong trees at times.

That being said, I believe that 13 Beloved is still the most decently conceptualised and produced Thai thriller to hit our screens this year, and is very much worth watching, especially for crowds tired of the Western gore-slasher-horror genre.

First published at incinemas on 28 June 2007

1 comment:

badboy said...

i've just watched that movie and it terrified me !
i hated the end, makes me so sad !!
"Amoral" is the word !