06 December 2011


Headshot, the new film by Pen-ek Ratanaruang, stars Nopachai Jayanama as Tul, a hitman who wakes from a coma to find that his vision is upside-down. Tul, a former police officer, was framed for murder when he refused to drop an investigation. After serving time in prison, he is hired to assassinate well-connected organised criminals. (As in The Red Eagle, Headshot's sub-plot highlights and condemns Thailand's endemic political corruption.)

Headshot is a self-styled 'crime noir', and it does feature many film noir characteristics: the plot is told in a series of flashbacks, betrayal and deception are major themes, the female characters are femme fatales, and much of the action takes place at night. Although Tul is an ex-cop, his brutal intensity is far removed from the suave detectives of classic noir (epitomised by Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep). Headshot shares its inexorable fatalism and moral complexity with Double Indemnity, Touch Of Evil, and Out Of The Past.

The film begins as an exhilarating and violent thriller, establishing its noir credentials and revealing Tul's motivations and loyalties. In these early sequences, Tul's obsessions with guns and exercise, and his shaved head, are presumably inspired by Taxi Driver. Pen-ek is in familiar territory here, as his previous films Fun-Bar Karaoke, 6ixtynin9, Last Life In The Universe, and Invisible Waves have also dealt with crime and murder. Headshot is a return to those earlier themes, after his recent films Ploy and Nymph (the latter also starring Nopachai).

Unfortunately, Headshot's second half can't quite sustain its initial energy and inventiveness: the plot twists seem like excuses for unconvincing story elements, and Joey Boy is an unthreatening bad guy. Joey Boy's character tortures Tul by dripping candle wax onto his crotch, though the scene reminded me of the risible Body Of Evidence; riding a bicycle and wearing tennis whites (in a tribute to Funny Games?) further undermine Joey Boy's potential menace.

[In one scene, a hitman dresses in a monk's robe as a disguise, and carries a gun concealed in an alms bowl. For the Thai release, Pen-ek was required to digitally erase the gun from the bowl, as the censors felt that it was inappropriate for a monk to be seen carrying a gun.]

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