The past decade has seen a progressive rise in Thai cinema. From the martial arts films headlined by Tony Jaa to horror movies like Shutter and plot-driven thrillers like 13: Game of Death genre work has transcended often limited resources with sheer talent and enthusiasm. If there has been an Achilles’ Heel, it tends to be a lack of maturity in the scriptwriting department, perhaps indicative of a burgeoning industry yet to be fully established.
Action thriller Headshot demonstrates this perfectly. It has a script grappling with cliche and deeper meaning, caught between trying to offer layers but at the cost of set-pieces.
The basic concept is a hoary one. Tul (Nopporn Chaiyanam) is a reluctant hitman wanting to quit the business. It is a storyline that has played out dozens of times before, but Headshot, to its credit, does try to shake the formula up a little.
Tul is a cop who finds himself framed for murder after he refuses to be bribed. When he is finally imprisoned, he is approached by a mysterious doctor who claims to be part of a vigilante organisation who kill the corrupt, supposedly untouchable rich. On his release, Tul is eventually persuaded into joining the organisation as an ‘assassination expert’ until one botched job where he goes after a politician while disguised as a monk ends with Tul taking a bullet to the head.
He survives, but the headshot leaves him with two lasting legacies. First is a reticence over his choice of trade and the second is…he now sees everything upside down.
This inverted vision is played as a major hook of Headshot in the marketing, but has surprisingly little direct impact on the film. There is the odd shot to remind viewers how Tul sees things, but the character seems to have no difficulty running around and shooting people expertly. Instead, it seems more a metaphoric change in viewpoint for Tul as he questions whether killing really is the right way to tilt the scales against corruption and evil.
The story goes through a couple of twists, but never really ignites, while Tul’s angst always feels oddly superficial. He worries about being a good person, but then forces a woman to drive him halfway across Thailand at gunpoint.
Headshot ends up being a serviceable thriller, but not an exceptional one. Well-shot and slick, it raises questions about morality and justice but rarely rises to memorable heights.
The main extra is a 30-minute “making of” featurette that tracks the project right from its inception, where experienced director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang adapted the story from the novel by Win Lyovarin. Ratanaruang is an eloquent and honest interview subject, with his comments ranging from describing Headshot as a “Buddhist film noir” to some remarkably candid comments on corruption in Thailand, including a confession that he has been driving for 20 years without a license. This achievement, he jokes, may be the biggest of his life, even bigger than getting his films into the Cannes Film Festival.
The other extra feature is a short documentary on Khata Phasukan, a Thai man who reads and writes upside down. Effectively a three-minute talking head interview, Phasukan explains his condition and his attempts to rectify it, as well as the reactions it gets from other people.
DIRECTOR(S): Pen-Ek Ratanaruang | COUNTRY: Thailand | YEAR 2011 | DISTRIBUTOR(S): Madman | RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes | ASPECT RATIO: 16:9 | REGION: 4 / PAL | DISCS: 1