Director of “Headshot,” Pen-ek Ratanaruang. (Local Color Films Ltd.)
This Thai anti-hero’s career trajectory follows quite a circuitous course, starting as a cop, next becoming a hitman, only to later seek peace as a Buddhist monk. It is safe to say his perspective changes dramatically in Pen-ek Ratanuang’s karma noir “Headshot,” one of the clear highlights of the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival.
Keep an eye on Tul’s hair. It will serve as a telling indicator during “Headshot’s” many flashbacks. Indeed, Tul will have much reflecting to do. When viewers first meet him, he is preparing for his latest hit. Tul kills his target. He always does. However, he takes a bullet to the head in the process. It turns out to be one of those freak events. Tul survives, but he now sees the world upside down.
As we learn during his reveries, Tul was an honest cop who was framed for crossing a crooked politician. Upon his release, he is recruited by a sketchy doctor with weird eugenic-like theories on the nature of evil to serve as the assassin for his secret cabal. Now that his vision is inverted, Tul wants to retire. Right, good luck with that.
“Headshot” has all the film noir elements, including two beautiful femme fatales, one hard-boiled killer-for-hire, venal public officials, mysterious grudges, a lot of rain, and a fair helping of Buddhist theology. Pen-ek (sometimes billed as Tom Pannet) has crafted a slick, cerebral thriller, dexterously slipping some curveballs past viewers caught up in the nefarious on-screen business. Even though the constant flashing backwards and forwards can be a bit confusing at times, he steadily cranks up the tension, while maintaining an ominous sense of fatalism. It should also be noted, the majority of the film is seen right-side up, with only a few brief scenes representing Tul’s new point of view, so potential viewers should not fear leaving the theater with a monster headache.
Nopachai “Peter” Jayanama is an absolutely dynamite seething anti-hero with serious action cred. His Tul broods like nobody’s business. Celine “Cris” Horwang is also a smart and dynamic screen presence as Erin, the innocent bystander repeatedly pulled into the ex-assassin’s murky morality play. Likewise, Chanokporn “Dream” Sayoungkul is appropriately alluring and vulnerable as the woman initially sent to ensnare Tul.
“Headshot” is the rare film that should thoroughly entertain gangster genre movie fans and also satisfy art-house crowds. In short, it is the complete package. Very highly recommended, “Headshot” screens again this Thursday (April 26) as part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
Director: Pen-ek Ratanaruang
Cast: Nopachai Jayanama, Sirin Horwang, Chanokporn Sayoungkul
Running Time: 105 minutes
Thai with subtitles
Rating: 4.5 / 5