Thailand has rapidly become an emerging power in world cinema, with a strong line in genre titles like Shutter (2005) or martial arts flicks like Ong Bak (2003). Another indicator of the country’s strength is this superior thriller, a comic book adaptation also known as 13 Beloved.
The story sees innocuous and somewhat nerdy salesman Puchit (Krissada Terrence) have a string of bad luck that sees him lose his girlfriend, his car, his job and then suffer problems from home. Just as things seem at their darkness, he is thrown a mysterious lifeline. His phone rings and a voice tells him he has been selected for a game show – if he passes 13 challenges, he will win $100 million.
The first challenge is to kill a fly. The second is to eat it.
From there, things spiral as Puchit is forced by the rules to keep the game secret and yet carry out increasingly dangerous and amoral challenges. As his Grand Theft Auto-style rampage through the city captures media and police attention, he begins to notice the challenges are oddly tied to events in his own past…
13 Game of Death benefits hugely from its ‘game’ structure. Discovering what the next challenge is absorbing, as all the while Puchit’s co-worker Tong (Achita Wuthinounsurasit) uses her IT abilities to try and uncover who is behind the wide-reaching game. The story hurtles on like a juggernaut, glossing over some pretty hefty coincidences or stretches of logic at times around the nature of the challenges.
The momentum of it all is the main area of enjoyment. It is undoubtedly an entertaining ride and whilst it does have a message on materialism, it is not exactly the most in-depth or high-brow of statements. The moral interest comes in more later on in the challenges as Puchit knows he gets nothing if he quits, so added to the difficulty of each challenge is the threat that if he does leave, everything up to that point will be for nothing.
Perhaps the conclusion is a little bungled as the powers behind the game are revealed to be a little cliched – but up until then, 13 Game of Death proves a fun ride. Much of the credit must be placed at Terrence’s feet. Better known in Thailand as a pop singer, his weak-chinned Puchit makes a great descent from sweet naivety to blood-splattered cynic. It’s a great performance, being both convincing and endearing as events spiral far beyond his control.
A well-paced thriller and a success in its home country, it is unsurprising that the remake rights for 13 Game of Death have already been scooped up and a sequel is due out later this year in Thailand…
13 Game of Death is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.