Jan 15, 2011

13 Beloved


Released domestically as 13: Game of Death, this little number is one film that managed to successfully sneak its country of origin past me. Surveying the box art and synopsis, I would have never guessed that the film was from Thailand. My tastes strongly disagree with Thai new wave and the various other mediums that come from the "developing" third world country. Judging by the airbrushed still of "star" Krissada Terrence, I had assumed this Dimension Extreme release would highlight thriller Americana. After I quit my internal whining and went about the business of sitting through the film, I had noticed that while the film wasn't shot any better than the rest of the litter, the development of the story was ages ahead of its own film industry. Don't get me wrong, 13 Beloved isn't a great film but it certainly holds the torch of quality suspense films in Thailand. Seeing as the cultural aesthetic of poverty and grime is a mainstay in Bangkok, where film stock must be cheap as are the films, I was just relieved that Chukiat Sakveerakul avoided this at most costs and focused on the financial contagion of lead salesman, Chit. Besides from Tony Jaa and Prachya Pinkaew, the country doesn't have anything to show for successes of artistry or financial gain other than "ladyboy" porn. Not even the Pang brothers or the critically acclaimed Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives can surface the consistently sinking market for Thai films (ones that don't involve various forms of Muay Thai.)

The outline of 13 Beloved follows a recently laid off salesman named Puchit. Lady Luck has turned her back on his fortune for the last time. Broke, unemployed, without a car and severely in debt, it seems that the likely option would be to autodefenestrate oneself. While pouting in a staircase, his phone rings with an offer to win a large cash prize. In our Western world of cellular solicitation, this would surely be a call that I would either ignore or cut short. Divulging knowledge of his exact position, predicament, and a bothersome fly, the voice offers the first challenge to be killing the fly with a newspaper that mysteriously appears at the end of the stairs. This event serves as the catalyst to the increasingly erratic and immoral challenges that Chit subjects himself and others to. The child's play begins quite literally with playing with children. His task is to cause at least three toddlers to cry. Chit, being a commoner and that of strong morals, does not know how to pull this off. A shove later, Chit not only fails to evoke tears but spreads a smile on a young face. Once he tastes the temporary defeat, he accidentally steps on a toy and milks this to further his quest for 100 million baht. Such challenges are implemented but the length of extremity is stretched each go.

13 Beloved might seem similar to your palate. Imagine, if you will, what would happen if Falling Down was crossed with Eagle Eye. Director DJ Caruso credits Steven Spielberg for the original idea for Eagle Eye but it's obvious that 13 Beloved or at least, mention of the plot, influenced his ideas. This way, claiming authenticity saves him from buying up the rights and wasting more of his gold. The one wound, the critical blow to 13 Beloved's credibility as a thriller, is the awful, awful score. Some clown, name of Kitti Kuremanee, developed music that isn't only distinguishable for being a steaming platter of wasted and unfiltered flaccid notes, but painful and distracting as well. Often times, the action and intrigue of this twisted game will catch full force only to suffer at the hands of the irregular tempo and utterly amateur production. I'll admit to being constantly partial to the events but I'll also acknowledge that this story was driven enough to keep my interest; vivid in its portrayal but tart. 

A major element of 13 Beloved that really scored points for me was the realistic dramatization of hacking. Using most hackers favorite tool, Nmap, Chit's potential love interest delves into cyberspace, not the digi--Candyland as portrayed in Hackers, but raw data and line prompts in order to get to the bottom of his erratic and nonsensical actions. But this saving grace of plausible network invasion doesn't last long. As soon as the domain of the finale, the 13th challenge, is breached and a techno-luxurious hologram appears, as wide as a miniature IMAX screen, 13 Beloved switches gears to silly. The fact that no foundation or screen acts as backbone to the image, which quickly dissipates to reveal nothing out of the ordinary, really draws from the element of "Big Brother" 13 Beloved had going for it - that crawling notion of 24/7 observation which leads to a fermenting paranoia. What really sells 13 Beloved though from the territory of middling to competent is the "shocking" twist which proves to be the greatest act of humor involved in the script. Marketed as a horror/comedy, the regard to jokes was never sold to me until the conclusion, the shocking cap which lead on a visage of its own. While the faux-omniscience is enjoyable, it's merely a distraction from the effortless direction. Sure, the film looked good considering what part of the world it hailed from. I would never recommend 13 Beloved to a cinephile in hopes for an enlightening experience but if said film were at your disposal, it certainly wouldn't hurt to give it a chance. Hell, you might even appreciate the "white terrorist" approach more than I did.


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