Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Life Upside Down: Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's Headshot (2011)

An extremely well-made and exciting work from Thai filmmaker Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, Headshot (2011) is one of the coolest and most bracing action-films in recent memory.  Focused on a former-cop turned hitman named Tul whose world is literally turned upside down after he takes a bullet in the head during an assignment, Headshot is a thrilling work that solidifies Ratanaruang as one of the most visionary young directors working in cinema today. 

Headshot is the first feature-length work the talented Ratanaruang has delivered since his award-winning Nymph (2009) over three years ago.  The Bangkok born Ratanaruang has been one of the most consistently daring filmmakers on the planet since his emergence in 1997 with the exhilarating Fun Bar Karaoke and Headshot continues a winning streak that includes an array of dazzling feature-length works as well as a number of acclaimed shorts.  A former illustrator and graphic designer (Ratanaruang was an art history major at New York’s Pratt Institute) Ratanaruang’s works are as visually captivating as they are intelligent and Headshot stands as a rare action film that is as thrilling for the eye as it is the intellect.

While Headshot is based on a novel by writer Win Lyovarin, it is clearly a very personal work for Ratanaruang who writes in his director’s statement on the film that it is, among other things, a work about, “the inevitability of karmic retribution”.  It is also a clearly political work focused on, as Ratanaruang writes, the fact that it is the, “politicians, military generals and wealthy businessmen”, that, “still write the laws and live above them.”  Headshot is an angry work but it is also a corrosively elegant film that has a brutally poetic quality about it.  It’s a protest movie posing as a modern action film and it’s an incredibly resonate work that will linger in the mind days after experiencing it.
Key to the success of Headshot is the terrific lead performance by Nopachai Chaiyanam as the doomed cop whose life was unfairly taken away from him by the very corrupt powers that be.  Chaiyanam gave a similar daring and great performance in Ratanaruang’s Nympth and it’s easy to see why Ratanaruang praised his “intelligence, instinct and commitment” in a recent interview.  The whole cast of Headshot is particularly strong, with special mention also going to the lovely Chanokporn Sayoungkul, an extremely sexy model (who reminds me a bit of Laura Gemser) making her film debut. 
Still Courtesy of Kino Lorber

While Headshot is an absolute ‘directors’ film Ratanaruang is helped by an extremely talented crew with cinematographer Chankit Chamnivikaipong giving the film a wonderfully sleek and uber-cool look that reminded me a at times of the legendary Cinema du Look films that came out of eighties French Film.  The haunting score by Vichaya Vatanasapt is also particularly powerful and provides a wonderfully menacing counterpoint to Ratanaruang’s vicious action set pieces throughout the film.
Headshot had its American premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, where it received much justified acclaim, and it is starting its commercial theatrical run on September 28th before arriving on DVD and VOD on October 2nd from Kino Lorber.  I highly recommend the film to both action and art-house lovers…it’s a smashing work.

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