Dir: Pen-Ek Ratanaruang
Cast: Nopachai Chaiyanam, Cris Horwang, Chanokporn Sayoungkul, Apsit Opasaimlkit, Kiat Punpiputt.
I don’t know what it is but I’m a pretty big fan of films that are about hitmen or assassins. I find those type of films both rather compelling as a viewer. Especially if is one that is trying to do something different or unique. This is why I was very intrigued to check out the Thai crime film HEADSHOT, which in fact does takes very unique approach to the hitman-genre and as well as film noir if you can believe that. So what is it about HEADSHOT that makes it different when compared to other films of its type? When read on and you will find out.
The film tells the story of an honest cop named Tul (Nopachai Chaiyanam) who after arresting the brother of a very powerful and corrupt politician during a drug raid, gets framed and is sent to prison for a terrible crime he didn’t commit after he rejects a bribe from the politician to drop the case. While in prison he is visited by man named Dr. Suang, who wants to recruit him to a mysterious organization that he is a part of as a ‘assassination expert’. The organization’s goal is to eliminate corrupt politicians, businessmen and other important figures who think that they are above the law in Thailand. At first Tul isn’t sure if he wants to be apart of it but after while, in a way to quench his own thirst for vengeance, he decides to join them. After a while everything goes fine for him as a hitman but his life is changed forever when during one of his hits, he gets shot in the head. After somehow surviving his wound and spending three months in a coma, Tul awakens to find that he can now see for some strange and bizarre reason that can’t be explained he now sees the world upside down. When he finds it hard to live his life because of his condition, he starts thinking about quitting his job as a hitman. However what happens next takes Tul down a violent road that he would never expect.
After reading the plot, you can definitely see HEADSHOT peaked my interest right away. This is was an extremely compelling, very original and even thought-provoking crime film that had me riveted as a viewer from beginning to end. The idea of having a character who can see the world upside down seemed really interesting to me. However a part of me did wonder if the film would treat this aspect as a gimmick. Luckily writer/director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (who adapted the film from a novel called FON TOK KUEN FAH by Win Lyovarin) doesn’t do that at all, instead he uses it in a way that far more interesting than you think it would be. It plays an important part of the character Tul’s journey and what he goes through during the course of the film. However if you expect the film to entirely upside down through out you are definitely going to be disappointed. It only happens a couple of times during the film when we see things from Tul’ s POV. Also the film itself could have easily have standard crime film but, like one of my favourite films of 2012 THE GREY, it deals with some really fascinating existential and spiritual themes that, in my opinion, added a lot more weight to the story. While I do admit that the film does explore these themes and ideas in a rather unsubtle way at times, but it never really bothered me at all since it actually made it a much more rewarding and richer film to me. Another thing that really surprised me about the film was that it is a noir film. While it does have some of the familiar conventions and tropes that are most associated with that genre but by having it story set in Thailand and as well as doing a modern-day spin on some of those element, it makes the film feel both refreshing and unique. Ratanaruang does a great job with both his direction and screenplay, he was able to balance all these interesting elements while at the same time making a well crafted crime film. Plus he gets a great performance from his film’s lead Nopachai Chaiyanam, who I thought was terrific. It would have been a hard role to play but he handles it with confidence. The supporting were solid but it is really Chaiyanam’s show. The cinematography was nicely done, the score was pretty good, the actin scenes were well staged and the ending was extremely well done.
In terms of negatives, they were a couple that did bother me. One thing that haven’t mentioned about the film is that it has a non-linear plot. The film goes back forth between Tul’s life after being shot in the head and as well as the events that lead him to becoming a hitman. While this aspect worked for most part but there a couple of times during the film where it was a bit confusing to tell which scenes were sent in the past or in the present. Also I felt that the film’s supporting cast were either a bit underused or underdeveloped, particularly the two actresses (Cris Horwang and Chanokporn Sayoungkul) who played the women that Tul forms relationships with during the film. While they are both solid and add a lot to their roles, unfortunately their characters are nothing more than plot devices. Also there were certain elements of the plot I felt could have been explored more. Plus a little part of me did kind of wish there were some scenes of Tul’s upside down vision.
Overall HEADSHOT was a surprisingly good film that I quite admired and enjoyed a lot. It’s always good to discover a film that you know absolutely nothing about and then having it surprise you with how good it is. It’s one film I definitely recommend everyone to check it out if you haven’t seen it, who knows you might just as riveted by it as I was.
The Australian DVD:
Audio/Video: The video is a 1:85 presentation. The image looks absolutely great and its stunning to look at. Audio is presented with Taiwanese Dolby Digital audio tracks in both 5.1 and 2.0. The audio is perfect and I haven’t got any problems with it at all. Plus the film has English subtitles for your viewing pleasure.
*Behind The Scenes: HEADSHOT And The Karma Bullet
*Interview: “The Strange Case of Uncle Khate”
The special features on the DVD are actually really good. The B-T-S: HEADSHOT And The Karma Bullet runs nearly half an hour and it has some great interviews with the film’s writer/director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, the original novel’s author Win Lyovarin and leading man Nopachai Chaiyanam. Both Ratanaruang and Lyovarin mostly talk in-depth about the film’s existential, spiritual and Buddhist themes. One of them at one point even calls the film a ‘Buddhist noir’ and explains how the genre of film noir actually has a lot of Buddhist elements to it. I found all this really fascinating and it actually made me like appreciate even more because of that. Star Chaiyanam talks about his approached and preparation to the role of Tul and how it was a bit difficult at first to get into the mindset of someone who saw the everything upside down.
The Interview: “The Strange Case of Uncle Khate” feature is just as interesting as the B-T-S doco. While doing research on the film, the filmmakers come across a man by the name of Uncle Khate and they decide to do an interview with him. So what is so interesting about his man? He actually lives his life by reading and writing everything upside down. The interview itself only goes for a few minutes but it was still interesting nonetheless hearing this man talk about why he lives his life this way. Also finally we get the film’s official Theatrical Trailer.
Review written by Bede Jermyn
Thanks to Ben from MadMan for his support.