liked the second half of the movie more; wished "rin" had more screen time.
There are dark movies whose darkness is purposeful. Noir films that are moving more than mysterious. Sad endings that are good endings. Suffering that teaches rather then thrills. Humor that is wicked but inevitable. The dark that is beautiful, regardless it's depths of hopelessness. These are the kinds of films that Pen-Ek Ratanaruang specializes in.
Fon Tok Kuen Fah, which translates to Rain Falling Up the Sky, but is named sensationally Headshot for westerners, is the third film of his I have had the pleasure of viewing. It is an adaptation of the novel of the same name written by award winning author Win Lyovarin. Pen-Ek's two earlier works that I have viewed left lasting impressions on me. Ruang Talok 69, or 6ixtynin9 as released in the US, was a dark comedy on level with Pulp Fiction, but more believable. Last Life in the Universe became one of my all time favorite films, one that still haunts me to this day. Headshot will stay with me as well, as a blend of noir, pulp, art-house, and action all wrapped up in political/social commentary paper and bright ribbons of spiritual morality.
To explain Headshot is simple, it has a simple plot. However, like all things beautifully simple, it is hard to do. Nopachai Jayanama plays Tul, a police officer who won't comprise his morals. In the very corrupt climate of Bangkok this gets him into trouble. Part of this trouble is female. Supporting actresses, Chanokporn Sayoungkul playing Tiwa, and Sirin Horwang playing Rin, are the two women that help cause some of this trouble Tul suffers. Tul will be led through a few different life changing events, one which will be as an assassin for a vigilante group that is targeting the criminals and corrupt members of Thai society. Tul goes through a great deal of love and loss before a hit goes wrong and he is shot in the head. When waking up from his wound he finds his vision altered, he sees the world upside down. After which he wants to quit his assassin job but ends up running for his life, not with a great deal of success. Tul is capture by a group looking for him and tortured, in a scene that doesn't show much, but still makes you cringe. His torturer is played by my favorite Thai Hip-Hop star Joey Boy, whose real name is Apisit Opasaimlikit, who seems to have fun with his role. All these parts of the story take place at different times, the storyline jumps back and forth between past and present. If you are watching these transitions will be easy to follow.
There are two things one must keep in mind when watching a Pen-Ek film: they are steeped in Thai culture, and amidst any violence, sex, or other craziness, there are subtle themes that are the whole reason the movie was made. Do not take his films at face value. A perfect example is the cinematography. Pen-Ek uses lighting and shadow and angles all to wonderful effect, but it is not just window dressing, it is part of the themes being represented. It is these camera tricks that are telling the poetic story, not the dialogue so much. This is a common theme throughout Asian cinema; show, don't tell.
One such theme is corruption. The corruption that Tul uncovers, drug deals, human trafficking and pillars of society being involved in covering it up. The corruption of Tul himself, who turns to vigilante methods to bring justice to a failed system. The corruption of Thai women, who with talents and intelligence are turned into prostitutes by poverty and a society that doesn't value them, as embodied by Tiwa. Corruption is a huge issue in Thailand. Newspapers show all sorts of examples from politicians and their dirty deals to rich people getting away with homicide, as in the Red Bull scandal. It is a subject that many have addressed in multiple ways over the decades. Headshot takes some of the best criticisms and ties them neatly into the story, the uncontrolled capitalism, turning away from Buddhist values and taking on empty western ones, ignoring the suffering of others when you can do something to help. It's message is there is a wrong way to fight injustice and a right way.
Headshot also possesses references to Thai Buddhism in abundance in very overt ways, as when Tul disguises himself as a monk and when he actually becomes one. He is shot in the head and has his vision altered when he is disguised as a monk, to kill another human being, therefore he is not truthfully wearing the holy robes, thus he is punished for this. Later on he becomes a real monk and although he still pays his karmic debt, he is granted a profound clarity, but this time he wears the robes truthfully. There is also a deeper subtly to the expression of Buddhism in the film. When Tul ordains it is under a monk who is a white man. That is no coincidence. If Thais adopting empty western values is a theme and the film shows a man from such a society taking on the robes of Buddhism, the statement that doing such is a superior path is stated, but without shouting it. Show, don't tell. Also consider Tul's change in vision. During successful mindfulness meditation it is said that mountains and rivers will be mountains and rivers, until they change and no longer become mountains and rivers, after which they will return to being mountains and rivers once again. What this means is you take for granted the nature of things until you see their true nature. That is when they become unfamiliar to you, but this knowledge of the truth will become the familiar. Tul's upside down vision is a metaphorical journey to realization and his personal redemption.
For someone familiar with Thai society there will be little things that will add more flavor for the viewer, but that won't stop others from enjoying and understanding the film. If there is a fault with the film at all, it's how it's presented. Pen-Ek likes to start with the low and dirty and pull something beautiful from it, much like a lotus flower, known for growing in dark muddy waters. So, this film has two sides, one that is action and violence and sex, and the other that is the lesson, the realization. I am afraid most will focus on the heads side of the coin and not see what the tail is carrying for them. I stress to all who would view this movie, or any Pen-Ek film, to not take your eyes from it. Take it seriously and watch without interruption, so you can catch the swirling filth and beauty of humanities damning vices and redeeming virtues.
"Headshot" es una estupenda propuesta de Tailandia que contiene una muy buena premisa y que es provocativa y violenta. Tambien les recomiendo la muy diferente "Last Life in the Universe" del director Pen-Ek Retanaruang.