MPAA Rating: Unrated
Director: Pen-Ek Ratanaruang
FilmPulse Score: 6/10
It is no secret that I am a fan of Thai director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang. His brilliant suicidal love story Last Life in the Universe is one of all-time favorite films. So, to say I was excited for his latest film, Headshot, would be an understatement. Headshot is centered around Tul (Nopachai Chaiyanam), a cop turned hit man, that has his life turned upside down, literally. Ratanaruang took a clichéd saying and turned it into a slow-burn of a noir-ish crime thriller.
The viewer is introduced to Tul while he is working on one of his contract killings. He shaves his head and wears the robes of a Buddhist monk in order to get close to his target. The assassination, of course, goes awry with Tul being shot in the head. Waking up later in Dr. Suang’s makeshift hospital, Tul learns that because of the bullet in his brain he nows sees everything upside-down. Chaiyanam does an excellent job of portraying a man who has to re-learn how to operate in day-to-day life. There is also a worry that Ratanaruang will overuse the effect of inverted shots, to highlight Tul’s affliction, but the viewer need not worry. The director uses this effect sparingly and to great effect.
Tul is your standard morally and ethically righteous, driven policeman who runs into a bit of trouble while trying to charge a well-connected factory owner after his partner is killed during a raid of the facility. He is visited by the factory owner’s lawyer, who offers him 5 million to drop the case. The lawyer warns Tul that he has just complicated a simple problem. Sub-sequently, Tul is blackmailed with an elaborate ruse of photos and a video clip showing him seemingly guilty of murdering a young woman. With this evidence, Tul is forced to drop the case through a press conference set up by the lawyer. Tul agrees to everything until the lawyer makes the demand that Tul apologize publicly to the man who murdered his partner. Tul reacts by beating the lawyer with a folding chair.
The viewer then finds Tul is prison where he corresponds with a man known as ‘Demon’, who believes that people are genetically predisposed to evil. In prison, Tul is visited by ‘The Demon’ aka Dr. Suang (Kiat Punpiputt) and asked to join his organization of expert assassins whose specialty is exterminating pimps, tax evaders, murderers and other sundry evildoers. If he agrees to work with Dr. Suang, he is looking at an early release from his prison sentence.
The main complaint of this film and where Ratanaruang really stumbles is the muddled storyline. The film starts with Tul carrying out a hit then rewind to Tul as a cop, then fast-forward to Tul in prison and so on. The chronologically jumbled narrative really hinders what could be a truly fantastic crime noir. Don’t get me wrong the film is still enjoyable and works well on several levels, but the way the story plays out is detrimental to the film overall.
The rest of the film plays out with your standard revenge, the quintessential double cross and an ambiguous ending that will leave some viewers disappointed. I found the ending befitting, a sort of karmic retribution in a land of assassins, evildoers and Buddhist monks. Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s Headshot is definitely worth a watch and does bring some fresh ideas to the, some times, stagnate crime thriller genre.