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March 18, 2008

13 Beloved

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13 Game Sayawng/13: Game of Death
Chukiat Sakveerakul - 2006
Dimension Extreme Region 1 DVD

At the time I arrived in Thailand, 13 Beloved had already completed its theatrical run. Among Thai critics, this was considered one of the best films of the year. If one overlooks the misleading cover art that the Weinsteins apparently hope to woo the Saw crowd, the film, while not living up to some of the hype, is worth seeing. And while 13 Beloved isn't a horror film, it does have a few truly grisly moments.

The premise is that Chit, a failed salesman of musical instruments, has been fired from his job. A mysterious phone call promises funds to be added to his bank account if he succeeds in a variety of challenges. To begin, he just has to swat a fly. This challenge escalates to more outrageous and dangerous dares. It is also revealed that Chit's activities are part of a web broadcast operated by an underground network that seems to have eyes everywhere.

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Beyond the sensationalism is a critique of contemporary Thai culture, humorously relayed in ever darkening shades of black. Chit obsession with meeting all thirteen challenges address the question of financial neediness, when having a lot is still never enough. Quite pointedly is the jab at the Thai attitude towards family when Chit tries desperately to contact the oblivious family of a deceased man. Flashback show how many of the challenges reflect on incidences in Chit's past. The film takes place during one day, and the progression into darkness serves as a metaphor for Chit's own journey into childhood traumas.

Chit's descent into a hell more of less of his own making has some unexpected twists and turns. One of the funnier moments comes when Chit's nemesis at work gets accused of some of Chit's mayhem, simply because he fits the general description of a Thai office worker. It's the kind of overworked cliche that gets new life in the way an ever-increasing crowd gets hysterical as the accused becomes more beleaguered. The Weinsteins acquired 13 Beloved for remake rights, and I would have to imagine that such a film would lose a lot in the process. While the film can be appreciated to a good extent by those who may know nothing about Thailand, there are also parts of the film which have an added resonance to those with some familiarity with the country and its people. Considering also what I have been reading about concerning the alteration or censorship of films in Thailand in these past few months, 13 Beloved may also represent the brief period of the past few years, when creative expression flowered in Thai cinema.

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Posted by peter at March 18, 2008 12:52 AM

Comments

I didn't give the ending too much thought when I first saw the film, I was so wowed by everything that came before it.

Other critics have commented on the puzzler of an ending, and subsequent viewings for me have made me go "huh?" But I still don't give it too much thought, because I really like this film.

Posted by: Curtis at March 18, 2008 04:20 PM