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July 24, 2013

The Gangster

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Kongkiat Khomsiri - 2012
Magnolia / Magnet Region 1 DVD

Ghosts still figure in Kongkiat Khomsiri's films. Best known for this contributions to the latter two films in the Art of the Devil series, Kongkiat's characters here are at least initially guided by the sprits of Elvis Presley and James Dean, not literally, but in their choice of music and movies. The criminal gang is even referred to as rock and roll gangsters. The main characters here, Jod, is occasionally haunted by the ghost of a young woman he has shot accidentally, the result of using a defective gun.

Kongkiat's film covers some of the same ground as Dang Bireley and the Young Gangsters, which I wrote about previously. Rendered as Daeng in this new film, he is a supporting character killed off after the first third of the story. Jod and Daeng are not exactly the Robin Hoods of Bangkok in the 1950s, but are presented as principled gangsters, looking out for those who live on the margins. The two get caught up in gang rivalries, as well as a military crackdown enforced by a zealous captain.

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What may be baffling for some viewers is Kongkiat's choice to disregard historical accuracy. There is a comment about meeting James Dean in the U.S., even though previous scenes would indicate that he was dead at this time. The kids gather at a movie theater to see the 1960 Elvis movie, G. I. Blues, with live dubbing, a common practice for Thai movies at the time, with dialogue referring to World War II. At the same time, Kongkiat cuts to appearances of people offering their recollections of that era, a reminder that the film is based on real life characters.

Jod's story is also about how gangs switched from knives to guns as the weapon of choice. The ending is some kind of tour-de-force which reminded me of the climatic shoot out in The Wild Bunch. That's probably deliberate. Jod's code of honor reminded me of Ernest Borgnine's great line, "At least we don't hang people". Rival gangs give it everything they've got, on the streets and even a rooftop chase. Peckinpah's film is also recalled with the use of slow motion. On a thematic level, one can also see parallels in that both films explore the limits of male camaraderie. Knives are brought back when a bulletless Jod faces off against his sworn enemy.

Kongkiat doesn't shy away from onscreen violence, for those who have seen his previous films, this will be no surprise. There are a couple of brutal killings, with splattering of blood, even on the camera in one scene. Certainly both hilarious and horrifying is a killing in a restaurant. Who would have expected that a crab leg stuck in some guy's neck would prove to be an effective lethal weapon?

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at July 24, 2013 12:19 PM