Review: ‘Headshot’

A Bangkok assassin's life turns upside down -- literally -- in "Headshot," a brooding Thai noir whose protagonist's vision is inverted when a bullet hits his brain.

A Bangkok assassin’s life turns upside down — literally — in “Headshot,” a brooding Thai noir whose protagonist’s vision is inverted when a bullet hits his brain. Formerly a cop, the hired gun flashes back to the events that made him go bad, as writer-director Pen-ek Ratanaruang flips the script, temporally speaking, and sometimes the image as well. Heavy on long takes and pregnant pauses, Ratanaruang’s characteristically slow storytelling will frustrate genre fans, while the lead character goes from being unsympathetic to uninvolving. Aside from a late-reel gun battle in a rainy forest, the pic’s pleasures remain almost solely in the cinematographic realm.

Long-haired hitman Tul (Nopachai “Peter” Jayanama) is introduced shaving his head in preparation for his first assignment — to whack a pol by impersonating a Buddhist monk. Tul carries out the order but gets shot in his bald dome, landing him in a three-month coma, after which he sees everything upside down.

Adapting Win Lyovarin’s novel “Rain Falling Up the Sky,” Ratanaruang (“Nymph,” “Ploy”) reveals in the course of a lengthy flashback that Tul had shifted from cop to crook after falling under the sway of an underworld guru named Demon, whose published philosophy holds that evil is the root of all human affairs. Tul agrees to become the powerful Demon’s hitman as a way to get out of jail, where he’s served three years for a fake murder orchestrated by coke-dealing creeps who had tried and failed to bribe him.

Chankit Chamnivikaipong’s HD shooting commands attention for often being severely underlit, giving a cold and clammy dimension to scenes such as one in which Tul is handcuffed to a table and tortured with a candle by goons who want him to divulge the name of the man giving him orders. Later, with the help of Erin (Sirin “Cris” Horwang), a curiously devoted female hostage who’s always around with her car when he needs a ride, Tul ends up in a monastery — an ironic outcome given his earlier monk’s costume when working as a killer.

A twist involving Erin’s true identity does little to clarify the convoluted pic, and the upside-down point-of-view shots read as gimmicky for how infrequently, and arbitrarily, the director delivers them. Thesping appears unremarkable — in the moments when Ratanaruang’s lighting scheme allows it to be seen at all.

After a brief opening scene, the pic’s title card, in Thai and English, is displayed upside down and backward.

Headshot

Thailand-France

Production

A Kino Lorber (in U.S.) release of a Local Color Films Co. production, in co-production with Memento Films Intl., in association with Wild Side Films, with support of the Gothenburg Film Festival Fund, in cooperation with Tokyo Project Gathering, with funding from Office of Contemporary Art and Culture Thailand. (International sales: Memento Films Intl., Paris.) Produced by Pawas Sawatchaiyamet, Raymond Phathanavirangoon. Directed, written by Pen-ek Ratanaruang, from the novel by Win Lyovarin.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Chankit Chamnivikaipong; editor, Patamanadda Yukol; music, Vichaya Vatanasapt; production designer, Wittaya Chaimongkol; costume designer, Visa Kongka; sound (Dolby Digital), Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr; associate producers, Emilie Georges, Tanja Meissner. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Vanguard), Sept. 13, 2011. Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Nopachai "Peter" Jayanama, Sirin "Cris" Horwang, Chanokporn "Dream" Sayoungkul, Apisit "Joey Boy" Opasaimlikit, Krerkkiat Punpiputt. (Thai dialogue)

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