13 Beloved is not a horror movie. It is a dark, brutal comedy with a plot that should fit snugly into the heart of any genre fan. I’m not sure it has the international notoriety, yet, but I firmly believe that 13 Beloved has what it takes to be the next Asian film that young, Western males devour and then tell all of their friends to see, like Oldboy before it and Battle Royale before that. It has the humor, the style, the acting and the violence to match all three. If that isn’t enough, 13 Beloved also has broader, less bitter satirical instincts and a more subtle vein of social revenge.
Severely in debt, soon to be out of a job and burdened by a dependent family, Phuchit is reaching his breaking point when his phone rings. The caller, who can clearly see him despite no visible cameras, is told that if he can kill a nearby fly with a designated newspaper, he will be given 10,000 Baht. Immediately after the death blow, a text message from the bank confirms a 10,000 deposit to Phuchit’s account.
Our hero is playing in an underground reality game. Spread across 13 tasks is a total of 100 Million Baht. If he gives up, all of his winnings will be forfeit. If anyone learns of his participation in the game, all of his winnings will be forfeit. Thus begins a 24 hour odyssey around Bangkok involving an escalating array of challenges and a quickly vanishing point of return.
The premise may border on the familiar, but there is a delicate level of nuance operating here that separates 13 Beloved from any standard ‘Game of Death’ storyline. Phuchit, captured on the screen excellently by Krissada Sukosol, is an all too real, all too relateable character. He is the everyman and, while he may have not volunteered for the game, he chooses to keep playing. Each deposit into his bank account comes with a desensitization to the tasks on the part of both Phuchit and us, the viewer. Sakweerakul turns the heat up so expertly, so seductively, maintaining a sense of impending chaos while enthralling with the possibility of success. All consequences become an afterthought in the quest for that permanently life changing 100 Million.
While it pains me to speak ill of some of my favorite films, I must confess 13 Beloved is a much smarter film than either of the aforementioned Asian pleasers. It has all of the artistic merits of Oldboy, but none of its brooding angst. It shares the crisis of a society progressively isolated from its youth found in Battle Royale, but within a more appropriate scenario. And the trump, Sakweerakul does not require a shock and awe campaign to impact the viewer. Plenty of shock and possibly even more awe or in store, but in the film’s brilliantly calculated equation, these elements are the effect and not the cause. Instead Sakweerakul, who by God and my enormous jealousy is only 25 years old, graces the nearly two hour length with brisk, exceedingly efficient character work.
Sadly, 13 Beloved has already been swallowed into the gaping maw of the monstrous Weinstein Company. This means the chances of seeing a domestic release on DVD with English subtitles are extremely slim. That is until after their already planned American remake has been released. Which, of course, won’t be anytime soon.
Le sigh. Until then, theres always the Singapore DVD with English subs, if you have a region free player.