Hailing from Thailand, this pitch black thriller hits the ground running and is sure to please fans with a taste for the twisted. I wasn't sure what to expect, and that turned out to be the correct attitude to have when entering into a viewing contract with this little gem. It is tale of morality and social responsibility that asks the question: just how far will you go?
How much prodding would it take for you to move onto the next challenge, heck, complete the challenge given? 13: Game of Death (13: Beloved in its native language) takes a look inside what makes people tick when money is involved. While it does prove to be successful on its own terms, there was noticeable inspiration drawn from other films.
As I watched 13: Game of Death, I could not help but be reminded of films such as Chan Wook Park's Vengeance Trilogy, 13 Tzameti, Falling Down, and Saw. There were probably even a few others that I have already forgotten. Even with all of those influences informing my viewing, It was still a thrilling experience that had enough of its own twists and turns to keep me guessing until the conclusion.
The center of the action is Chit (Krissada Terrence). He is a sad sack, the proverbial nice guy who always finishes last. On this particular day, he loses out on a big sale to a co-worker, he is having money problems, he was recently dumped, his car is repossessed, and he has lost his job. You have to ask if anything goes right for this guy, but then fate, in the form of a phone call, intervenes. The caller says that it is his lucky day and he could be on his way to 100 million baht ($1 million on the dub track). All he has to do is accept thirteen challenges.
The first two seem easy enough: 1) kill a fly with a rolled up newspaper and 2) eat the dead fly. So, feeling the draw of the promised prize money and the seeming simplicity of the challenges, Chit accepts and is thrown into a game that spirals out of control and ends up challenging his moral code, even his very humanity. At the same time, the audience (us) is challenged; will our voyeuristic tendencies allow us to be entertained by the oncoming depravity?
It would be very easy to give away key plot points, so I am going to have to avoid giving much more of a plot description. This is a film best experienced, best discovered by viewing, not reading a careless or unavoidably detailed plot description. Suffice to say, recognizing other films will not give away where this is heading.
13: Game of Death is a fast-paced thriller that plays many scenes broadly, which only works to enhance the effect. It is unlike what you get in Hollywood championed thrillers in that the film has a very palpable sense of reality while not feeling terribly real at the same time. It teeters on the edge of flying off the rails, yet manages to hold on and drag the audience along the pre-determined path of its existence.
While the movie has great pacing, it takes its time to reveal its depths to the audience, beginning as a drama, adding in touches of black comedy, veering into a bit of action, before settling into the disturbing. It is an accomplished film that will have you on the edge of your seat all the way through.
All the while Chit is being challenged, we are not allowed to forget that this is a game show. Of course, it is a very secret game show that Chit cannot tell anyone he is participating in, and what good is a game show that doesn't have an audience? That's right, there is an audience always watching, always being entertained by the challenges presented to Chit. We are that audience; how much are you willing to accept? In a way, it touches on a bit of what Series 7 touched upon in its look at the reality television phenomenon.
Is the movie perfect? Of course not, very few films are, but that takes nothing away from what it accomplishes. For one thing, there is an interesting sub-plot involving the police officer in charge of catching Chit (he is performing some criminal acts, no matter how much you want to root for him), but it is abandoned with no completion to his arc. There is also the small matter of the ending that did not completely work.
Director Chukiat Sakveerakul does a great job with the pacing, camera work, and general flow of the film. He displays an ability to keep an audience at attention and captivated. I am interested in investigating his other work, and seeing what he may do in the future. He also co-wrote the screenplay with Eakasit Thairatana, based on his comic. Also contributing to the film's success is cinematographer Chitti Urnorakankij, who does a fine job of capturing the tone of each scene. The music also adds much to the film; it was composed by Kitti Kuramanee.
Beyond all of the pacing and the technical prowess on display, it is Krissada Terrence whose portrayal of Chit really draws you in. There is a desperation to the performance as he has been pushed to the edge, yet struggles to keep his humanity intact. He has a look similar to that of Michael Douglas in Falling Down, and it's easy to view his businessman look as that of someone who could snap at a moment's notice. Still, he brings a lot of genuine emotion to the role and truly holds the film together.
The DVD is being released by The Weinstein Company's Genius Products through their Dimension Extreme imprint. It should be noted that not only did the Weinsteins purchase distribution rights for North America, but also remake rights. So, this could find its way in Americanized form to theaters at a moment's notice. And to tell you the truth, if any amount of effort is put into the project, it could turn out to be very strong indeed. If only they could get someone like Johnny Depp, Guy Pearce, or Ethan Hawke (that's right), this could dare try for excellence.
Audio/Video. The technical side of the film is strong. The video transfer is 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and is a fine transfer with accurate colors and no noticeable blemishes. The audio is presented in both its original Thai and English dub 5.1 tracks. Both are accurate and do a good job, even the dub is quite good.
Extras. The bonus materials are a bit limited, with only the original teaser and full trailers, and a seventeen minute making of featurette featuring interviews with the primary cast and crew accompanying finished, set, and rehearsal footage.
Bottom line. This is a very good film, one that works hard to hold your attention and play to a wide audience. It is definitely worth spending some time with as the depths of depravity are explored as the human condition is challenged by outside influences.