11 September 2023

The Series

6ixtynin9: The Series

Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s 6ixtynin9: The Series (เรื่องตลก 69 เดอะซีรีส์) was released on Netflix on 6th September (6/9). Pen-ek has remade his 1999 thriller 6ixtynin9 (เรื่องตลก 69) as a six-episode series with a new cast. In an interview with the Bangkok Post two days before the release date, he denied that the project was a straightforward remake: “I wouldn’t call it a remake because that wasn’t what I intended to do... I think this is a new version of the story and not a remake. There are more storylines, new characters and locations.”

The plot has certainly been expanded, though the events of the original film are all repeated. (Even the 1990s technology has barely been updated: the characters now have smartphones, but landlines and cassettes are still significant to the plot.) As in the film version, a young woman (Toom) loses her job and finds ฿1 million in a box outside her door. Like the similar setup in Shallow Grave, this unexpected windfall soon leads to unwanted visitors and bodies piling up. Alfred Hitchcock is another clear influence, especially Rope (bodies in chests) and Psycho (the swamp). Pen-ek even has a Hitchcockian cameo in the series, as an advertising executive.

While Toom’s plotline sticks closely to the film version, there’s a new subplot involving a police drugs raid (which takes up most of the final episode), and a mysterious woman in white who greets the deceased at the pearly gates. (This female Saint Peter is played by Veeraporn Nitiprapha, author of The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth/ไส้เดือนตาบอดในเขาวงกต). The heavenly sequences take the series into Magical Realist territory, when two dead characters are—literally—given a new lease of life. This initially seems like a reprieve for one man, though he dies again when a joke from the film version is actually carried out in the series (in a reference to In the Realm of the Senses/愛のコリーダ).

6ixtynin9: The Series

The series is more graphic than the film, as the film was made before Thailand’s movie rating system was introduced. (The sex scenes are framed similarly to those in Pen-ek’s Ploy/พลอย.) In an interview for Thai Cinema Uncensored, Pen-ek described how the censors instructed him to add a caption reassuring cinema audiences that Toom had been successfully apprehended by the police: “we were asked by the police to put the rolling credit saying that she was caught and went to jail.” Their justification wasn’t the usual crime-doesn’t-pay moral lesson; instead, it was a face-saving measure by the police: “if the girl could do this, the police look bad.”

The film was made, and set, in the aftermath of Thailand’s 1997 economic collapse (known here as the ‘tom yum goong crisis’). The new series was filmed shortly after the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused similar economic damage. Toom’s company goes bankrupt and—like real-life businesses such as Star Edu, owners of the Kaplan Thailand franchise—its management tries to avoid giving its staff the severance pay they’re legally entitled to.

The show also has a political message: news reports of pro-reform student protests are seen on TV sets throughout the series, starting with footage from 16th October 2020. Similarly, Snap (แค่... ได้คิดถึง), The Island Funeral (มหาสมุทรและสุสาน), Tang Wong (ตั้งวง), and Pen-ek’s short film Two Little Soldiers (สาวสะเมิน) are also punctuated by news reports of political violence. The series ends with an ominous written epilogue speculating on another state crackdown: “THE WIND OF CHANGE HAS BLOWN AWAY... TEAR GAS A YEAR LATER. BUT HOW LONG WILL IT LAST? ONLY TIME WILL TELL.”

The film version of 6ixtynin9 will be shown on 5th November in an outdoor screening at the historic Metropolitan Waterworks Authority building in Maen Si, Bangkok. The screening is part of the second กรุงเทพ กลางแปลง (‘Bangkok open air’) festival, which runs from 7th October to 12th November. The film was previously shown at Bangkok Screening Room in 2017. As part of a Pen-ek retrospective in 2018, it was screened on DVD at the Jam Factory and in 35mm at House RCA, and it was also shown at Alliançe Francaise as part of another Pen-ek retrospective that year.

1 comment(s):

Matthew Hunt said...

Netflix: https://www.netflix.com/th/title/81517156
Bangkok Post: https://www.bangkokpost.com/life/arts-and-entertainment/2641047/resurrecting-a-classic

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