Saturday, October 1, 2011

TIFF 2011: Pen-ek Ratanaruang's HEADSHOT

Sigh. This was one of the films I was most excited about seeing at this year's festival -- Ratanaruang's Last Life in the Universe was really beautiful and cool -- but it wound up being a bit disappointing. As I said in the Audioboo that accompanied my post on Roman's Circuit yesterday, I was originally disinclined to say more about Headshot than that, but looking over clips and things again I am developing a retroactive fondness for the film. Perhaps another case of memory migration? And is this why I recall liking Last Life in the Universe so much more the first time than I did on a recent second viewing? It's kind of bugging me.

This time around, Ratanaruang was adapting a novel -- the novelist, the prolific Wyn Lyovarin, seems to be a fan of Ratanaruang's and has sent him copies of everything he's written -- called Rain Falling Up in the Sky. It's big-time crime fiction, with cops and drug dealers and hitmen and femmes fatale galore, romping all over dirty old Bangkok. Our hero was a cop until the crime boss found a way to manipulate/force him into switching sides and becomes an expert hitman -- the action scenes in which he plies his trade are pretty good from my point of view, but I'm no action aficionado so take that with however much salt you wish -- until one day a botched hit leaves him, yes, headshot. When he recovers, he sees everything upside-down, which is the hook that intrigued me about this film beyond Ratanaruang's name in the credits.

What ensues is a decently plotted crime tale, with just enough twists and surprises to keep from getting boring... except for the fact that this is Thai cinema and it's apparently a rule, written or un- (Ratanaruang educated us after the film, a bit, about the kinds of restrictions the Thai government places on filmmakers, including no negative depictions of Buddhist monks or people dressed as monks, ever) that there must be a lot of long, static shots of important characters staring profoundly into or just beyond the camera. They were okay in Last Life in the Universe because it was Tadanobu Asano doing the staring, and we knew the kind of lushly gorgeous scenery he was staring at, and it was part of a slower, more thoughtful story, but they were pretty out of place here, however attractive this new leading man (Nopachai Jayanama, who is very attractive indeed) may be.

And, too, while the neurological damage and ensuing strange point of view is what really makes this film unique, it's not really utilized; it's more of a throwaway that's good for trailers and promotional blurbs, to make it sound more interesting than it is.

And so between this and Uncle Boonmee (which we dubbed Uncle Bore-Me) I will never get Paul Laroquod to go to a Thai film again.

But damn, is Pen-ek Ratanaruang a funny speaker, very dry and subtle and understated and hilarious. "This film is in Thai," he counseled us before the screening, "So it is subtitled, so if you cannot read there is no point in staying," he said in his quiet, small voice...

He hasn't lost me yet, but I tap my foot a bit in his general direction....

Oh, and I WANT that typewriter.

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