Director: Pen-Ek Ratanaruang
Cast: Nopachai Chaiyanam, Sirin Horwang, Chanokporn Sayoungkul
Plot: A cop-turned-hitman has to struggle with moral decisions while trying to survive on the run.
Genre: Crime / Drama / Thriller
Rating: M18 for sexual scene and violence.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
“You probably don’t know that I see rain falling upwards.”
Although not as well-known in the festival circuit as fellow Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who won the Palme d’Or for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) at Cannes, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang remains to be quite prolific ever since he made his feature debut in 1997 with Fun Bar Karaoke.
His new film is called Headshot, marketed as a crime-noir, a genre that is infrequently seen in Thai cinema, which is more well-known in the region for its horror films like Shutter (2004) and sweet romantic-comedies such as Hello Stranger (2010).
Headshot tells the story of a cop-turned-hitman named Tul (Nopachai Chaiyanam) who kills people for money. But it’s not money that he wants. Those targeted for assassination aren’t ordinary people, but corrupt folks who hold high-ranking positions in the Thai government.
Tul follows orders from a mysterious doctor, who believes that the pursuit of evil is rooted in genetics, and thus holds the lofty ambition to wipe out all ‘evil genes’ from the face of the Earth. Of course, that is no easy task as Tul feels the heat when he realizes he also needs to save himself from being killed in the process.
Ratanaruang centers his film on Tul, not as a killer whose actions, however ‘noble’ they are deemed to be, cause him to face intense retaliation, but a person caught between two worlds where the only sanity comes from one’s moral choice.
Tul sees his world upside-down, after being shot in the head while on a mission in the film’s prologue. He miraculously survives, and his new way of seeing, however frustrating it ought to feel, allows him to look at things differently. Thankfully, Ratanaruang only lets us see in flashes what Tul would see, otherwise it wouldn’t be a pleasant viewing.
Headshot is at times beautifully filmed as Ratanaruang tries to provide some scenes of natural and urban beauty to go with the startling violence. As a crime-thriller, Headshot is hard-hitting and brutal, though sometimes it becomes intentionally stylized, like a first-person shooter video game with blood dirtying the camera lens.
As a result, the tone of the film feels uneven as it sometimes tries to be too creative for its own good. There is not much noir in Ratanaruang’s film, but there are certainly standout moments to savour. The highlight is a rain-soaked action sequence in the woods, shot under intense weather over a darkening blue sky.
The lead character Tul doesn’t seem to be able to come out on his own, always suppressed by themes of morality, religious righteousness, and karmic retribution, which can be treated quite heavy-handedly. So is Headshot a genre crime-thriller? Or is it a character study of a hitman struggling with morality? Ratanaruang attempts both, and even though the film engages for most parts, it falls short on either.
Verdict: This Thai crime-thriller feels uneven tonally, but has its moments of beauty and violence.
GRADE: C+ (6.5/10 or 3 stars)
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