directed by Pen-Ek Rataharuang
starring Lalita Panyopas, Tasanawalai Ongartittichai, Lack Phomtong
I confess that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Thai film, despite my recent infatuation with Asian filmmaking. The first movie from southeast Asia to cross my path, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s 6ixtynin9 seeks to answer the Hitchcockian question, “what would you do if you found $25,000 on your doorstep one morning?” By this time in cinematic history, movie audiences have been exposed to a litany of resolutions to this moral dilemma, but 6ixynin9treats the subject with enough style and wit to overlook any hackneyed misgivings.
The film opens with the elven, almost Amelie-like Tum (Lalita Panyopas), a secretary at a financial company, getting laid off because of budget cuts thanks to poor luck of the draw. She spends the night morose, recycling suicide fantasies in her head and awakens to find a huge sum of money inside of a noodle box left mysteriously on the threshold of her apartment. Soon after, she’s confronted by a pair of quibbling Tarantino-esque goons from Kanjit’s Thai Boxing, who are looking for the money they’d left in front of Tum’s #6 apartment instead of the #9 –the number on Tum’s door is very loosely attached and has the tendency to dangle and invert. Out of fear, self-preservation and greed, Tum, much to her own surprise, dispatches the duo. Of course this event is just compounded by more members of Kanjit Thai Boxing, henchmen of the money’s original recipient and the occasional authority all coming to investigate, with most meeting their doom inside Tum’s apartment. Although unwittingly drawn into the bloodbath at first, Tum reveals herself to be quite calculating and reasonably in control of the mounting insanity and body count. The film, like any good caper, twists and unfolds unexpectedly throughout and for me to map it out from beginning to conclusion would take most of the joy out of watching it.
Ratanaruang’s use of a darkly realistic tone casts Danny Boyle’s great Shallow Grave as this film’s closest touchstone. Like Boyle, Ratanaruang peppers his shot construction and camera movement with tricks from the Hitchcock handbook: shadows acting out scenes in lieu of people, spiraling overhead shots of dead bodies, characters narrating outside of the film’s diagesis, etc. Instead of simply playing the film as a straight homage or a heavy-handed brutal thriller, the director injects humor in a number of different ways. He does this chiefly through the film’s secondary characters: the nosy neighbor who thinks her husband is cheating on her with Tum, the Thai Boxing boss Kanjit’s diminutive, over-emotional masseuse, as well as his deaf, good natured underling.
The film’s biggest accomplishment is how it plays with the stereotype of Thailand employment. In a scene between Tum and Kanjit where she is trying to secure an illegal passport to flee the country, Kanjit warns her that the world sees all Thai women as prostitutes and all Thai men as drug dealers. Kanjit’s business of running blackmarket goods and fixing boxing matches casts him as a low individual, but Tum is a strong-willed, intelligent and assertive woman, one who is not so easily debased and one who ultimately makes the right choice concerning the money.
It would be foolhardy to say that films like 6ixtynin9 aren’t made as often as they used to because the idea well for moral dilemma films has run dry. The truth is that Hollywood has taken a lazy approach to the genre for many years. However, in the hands of a creative storyteller, in a far removed part of the world, the tired premise can yield both compelling entertainment and important social commentary. How very Hitchcockian of it…
Palm Pictures: www.palmpictures.com