13: Game of Death (2006) aka 13 game sayawng aka 13 Beloved
Directed by: Chukiat Sakveerakul
Starring: Krissada Terrence, Achita Sikamana, Sarunyu Wongkrachang, Achita Wuthinounsurasit, Nattapong Arunnate, Alexander Rendel, Penpak Sirikul
(out of 4)
13: Game of Death is a Thai thriller of the times – concerned about the loss of control in a society beholden to the new reality of the video image. It’s also about the damage created by greed and the the loss of one’s moral center; the dangers of losing your humanity in the endless pursuit of the almighty dollar (or in this case, the baht). So, the movie is treading well-worn ground as a morality tale, but there are other interesting ideas put forth that help modernize it – specifically, a deconstruction of the reality show craze, the tendency for people to define their lives in terms of financial and corporate success, the addiction to work, the abandonment of the elderly (and perhaps the casual discarding of those deemed not helpful to the “system”), and finally, the worship of technology as the bringer of salvation (the use of the Internet for instant gratification and the cellular phone as an indispensable link to the world). The movie is ambitious, and works well most of the time due to main lead Krissada Terrence’s ability to get you emotionally invested in his character. That’s rather important in a movie like this, because you have to get caught up in the thrill; the plot – which is implausible to say the least – is just the driver to set in motion our antihero’s journey to damnation.
Mild-mannered Pusit is at the end of his rope, being in serious debt, breaking up with his singer girlfriend, losing his car and his job. Things look up when he gets a cell phone call from a mysterious individual who offers him a chance to play a game: if Pusit can successfully complete 13 tasks, he will win 100 million Baht. The first two tasks seem simple enough, if odd: swat that fly with a newspaper, and then eat it. With thousands of baht instantly added into his account, Pusit gains a little bit more confidence – punching out a workplace rival before continuing the game, which requires him to perform deeds of increasingly questionable moral value. After stealing money from a beggar and making children cry, Pusit arrives at task #5, which is a restaurant lunch made of excrement. Watching a man eat shit for money – the ultimate degradation, is it not? After that “palette cleanser”, we’ll watch Pusit further remove himself from humanity with every succeeding horrible job he chooses to perform for money, leading ultimately to murder. Trying to save his soul is lady friend Tong (Achita Sikamana), his last remaining link to his old world that is fast dissolving. Tong soon discovers a strange web site that may be broadcasting Pusit’s repulsive escapades, threatening to expose a secret organization of individuals running his game (among others), and offering internet voyeurs a front seat to the carnage for the right price.
13: Game of Death establishes itself as a mix of various horror and thriller elements – it’s part Falling Down, part The Game, part Saw, and part FeardotCom. What surprises me is that it manages to mix these things into a fairly cohesive whole, showing a version of the tragic main character from Falling Down by making him the puppet of an “evil” version of Consumer Recreation Services from The Game. (Where the “good” version of CRS was to return to a millionaire his humanity, the “evil” version in this movie exists to strip a poor man’s humanity away, making him a millionaire in the process). As Pusit’s game goes on, his ethics are constantly tested; it’s interesting to note that while he finds many of his tasks distasteful, the alternative option – stopping the game and going back to poverty – is even more distasteful. What drives him on is the idea that to quit would make all his previous efforts for nothing. Rather nihilistic in its conclusion, 13: Game of Death suggests that Pusit was doomed from the first moment he swatted that fly, although I must admit being a bit disappointed with the “twist” conclusion – it seems – I don’t know – wrong, somehow.
There’s also, like in The Game, the unbelievability of events syncing up just in the right ways to enable the main character to continue playing his game. Making a whole city part of the game environment introduces countless unforeseen elements, which I think would make the controlling of it almost impossible. For example, there’s a nasty sequence involving steel wire and the scalping/decapitation of motorcyclists (decent gore in that one), but the question is: how did the controllers know the motorcycles would be on the road? How would they know Pusit would turn up at the hospital so they could set up his tasks there? Where are all the hidden cameras? I suppose you should not be asking such questions in a movie like this, which is less concerned with logic than peeling away the layers of a man’s belief system and asking the questions: if people watch and approve of what you do, does that make your actions morally proper? How far is each of us from abandoning our principles once societal constraints are stripped away? How can groups of search results disappear from Google in the span of a few hours with not even a trace of a cache? (Ok, maybe only I care about that last question). I have heard that Dimension Films has acquired the rights to a remake – if Michael Douglas isn’t in it, I’ll be very disappointed.
- Bill Gordon
Buy 13: Game of Death on DVD