Directed by: Pen-Ek Ratanauruang
Starring: Nopachai Chaiyanam, Sirin Horwang, Chanokporn Sayoungkul
Thai cinema is undergoing somewhat of a transformation. In the past year, we’ve had both The Raid: Redemption and now, Headshot. Both are extremely violent films that are based around a sense of heightened reality. While Redemption is entirely centered on its protagonist’s physical abilities, Headshot is reliant on its protagonist’s inner struggle–but the physical, brutal nature of his job is no less present. It’s a far more cerebral take on the role of the assassin, a type of film that is quite common in Hollywood. The story concerns a cop who refuses to be blackmailed, and as a result is imprisoned. He makes an agreement with a doctor who goes by the nom de plume “Demon”. Indeed, it is a cheesy sounding name for a character who is trying to instill fear into others. But he’s no less threatening. He hires this ex-cop as an assassin, who is shot on the job, and due to the trauma, his vision is flipped upside down. It’s ridiculous, but it makes for a decent, probing look into the mind of an assassin. Problematically, however, is that it takes a very literal look into his life–something as inventive as it is on-the-nose.
Director Pen-Ek Ratanauruang’s neo-noir is modern in its style, yet classically noir in its storytelling. Stylistically, I was reminded of Wong Kar-wai and Christopher Doyle’s visually sumptuous cinematography that is intertwined and integral to the storytelling. Moody, elliptical, and visually enticing, it’s difficult to find yourself uninvolved in any of Wong Kar-wai’s films. But this proves to be a double-edged sword in Ratanauruang’s case. His film is emotionally detached and literal in the thematic material. Ex-cop Tul (played by Nopachai Chaiyanam) is driven by vengeance, and little else. Each time he seems to find some measure of peace, it’s taken away. This is a smart directorial move, but one that lacks the extra emotional punch that would ultimately bring us closer to him as a character. As with the case with most noir films, the story is typically convoluted. There are certainly some gimmicky elements to Headshot, but they are used so sparingly, it’s difficult to fault it too much for attempting to be visually inventive.
Headshot may be imperfect as a pure piece of storytelling, but technically, it’s wonderfully well done. Some audiences may complain about the plot being confusing, where events happen non-chronologically. However, many of the action set pieces are remarkably well made. It’s certainly reminiscent of new-wavers from various countries, with a mix of the action and moody color template of Michael Mann’s Heat. Story takes a backseat to the visual style. Arguably, one of the most well-shot scenes in the entire film is where Tul is escaping from pursuers in a dense, forested area. It’s highly sensory; it’s both involving and almost hyper-real. But Headshot may suffer the most from the lack of exposure to American audiences, and certainly due to the misleading poster, which makes it look like an action movie. Director Ratanauruang has a strong kinetic energy and vision that is felt through his photography and great set pieces. This is something sadly missing from many films today.