Friday, August 13, 2010

Triskaidekaphilia: 13: Game of Death

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

The 2006 Thai film 13: Game of Death mixes together familiar elements from the Saw franchise and extreme reality-TV parodies like The Running Man and Series 7: The Contenders, and it does so in an occasionally intense and exciting way. There are too many abrupt tonal shifts for the movie to be as powerful as it could have been, though, and the plot pretty much falls apart at the end, which sappily ties all the seemingly random horrific trials back to the main character's childhood in a way that feels manipulative and unearned. Still, there are plenty of moments along the way that allow the movie to live up to its U.S. release under the "Dimension Extreme" banner.

Game of Death isn't quite a horror movie, although it puts protagonist Chit (Krissada Terrence) through some pretty gruesome stuff, including a scene in which he eats an actual plate of shit (John Waters would be so proud). A demoralized salesman who's just lost his job, Chit gets a mysterious phone call telling him he's been selected for a game show that starts right that moment. The seemingly omniscient voice on the phone knows everything about him and sees everything he does, and tells him that if he completes 13 challenges, he'll win 100 million baht, or about $3 million (thanks, Google). It starts with merely killing a fly, but soon escalates to shit-eating and other extremely unpleasant tasks, and naturally murder shows up eventually.

Director Chukiat Sakveerakul lurches from tense thriller to wacky comedy in the film's first half, with a jarringly jaunty score that sounds very out of place. The result is that moments that should be suspenseful are instead goofy, and that undercuts the later seriousness of the film. There are also some dodgy special effects (most notably a really fake-looking decomposed body) that jolt you out of the story, along with the aforementioned sappiness. But the visceral revulsion of watching Chit try to down that plate of shit, or the pain of seeing him agonize over how far he will go to get the money he needs for a better life -- those are conveyed effectively, and Sakveerakul definitely knows how to push the audience's buttons. He just has a tough time figuring out which are the right ones to push at the right times.

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