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SHANGHAI –Friday Killeris a hangdog noir-comedy centered on an aging hit man whose road to retirement is waylaid by a corrupt politician and his underworld hounds. Written and directed by Yuthlert Sippapak, as part of his hit-man trilogy Meu Puen 3 Pak, the film is a curious crossfire of genres and moods that throws together Thai backwater humor, political satire, hardboiled shoot’em-ups, lesbian love and pastiche of Hollywood action.
Technically assured, cinema-literate (the Tarantino send-ups are spot on), with an offbeat manner of hurling surprises along the way, Friday Killerreflects Yuthlert’s chameleon sensibility, already attested by the genre-bending nature of his gangster films like Pataya Maniacand horror series Bupha Rahtree. Following its premiere in Competition at Shanghai International Film Festival, it should slot into cult action cinemas and ancillary markets.
As early as the prologue, Friday Killer announces itself as an alternative to Hollywood genre films. A young man interviews veteran hitman Ple for a college assignment. The comparisons Ple draws between Hollywood and Thai hit men make fun of the former’s self-important posturing.
All this is a roundabout way to introduce Pay Uzi (Thep Po-ngam), a legendary hit man nicknamed Friday Killer due to his superstitions. Fresh out of prison, Pay is the target of old enemies and newbie hit men out to prove themselves. He finds out that his ex-wife has borne him a daughter, Dao (Ploy Jindachote), before remarrying. However, the attempted reunion goes lethally wrong and Pay heads back to his hometown Chantaburi. He finds his house occupied by a pug-faced transvestite impersonating Uma Thurman inKill Bill, and the town over-run by the minions of shady bigwig Meng who’s bribing his way into politics. Dao, who is a lesbian policewoman, pursues Pay on a self-appointed crusade.
Everything is the antithesis of cool in this kitschy transplant of genre conventions to Thai setting. There is rarely a film where so many physically grotesque characters converge, played by Yuthlert’s beloved comedians. There are even shades of Robert Rodriguez’sMachete in the dry, grizzled persona of Pay, whose shooting is hilariously hindered by extreme long-sightedness.
However, Yuthlert attributes far more emotional heft to his lead than Rodriguez’ stylistic exercise. Likewise, Dao, though gorgeous, is no cutey-pie accessory in the film but a physically tough, complex character with identity issues, smoldering with the urge to overcome gender limitations. Even her lesbian relationship is not the butt of sexist or gay-bashing jokes but taken as seriously as any straight love.
The action scenes are the real deal, employing swish camera setups and slick editing. A cocky, stylish montage sequence shows Pay getting back into his killer groove as he sidles past a row of Meng’s campaign posters in a slow pan. This is crosscut ironically with his targets sobbing noisily over a soapy romance. Yuthlert also toys with Tarantino’s favorite narrative backtracks and loops, such as replaying the student’s interview at mid-point to reveal a twist. The end also gains poignancy through a surprise revealed by flashback that exemplifies Yuthlert’s understated treatment of potentially melodramatic material.
Even without an extravagant budget, artistic values rank high among Yuthlert’s output.
Venue: Shanghai International Film Festival, Competition
Production and sales: Phranakorn Film.
Cast: Thep Po-ngam, Ploy Jindachote
Director-screenwriter: Yuthlert Sippapak
Producer: Tawatchai Panpakdee/Yuthlert Sippapak
Executive producer: Vichai-Thanapol Thanarungroj
Director of photography: Tiwa Moeithaisong
Music: .Origin Kampanee
Editor: Tawat Siripong
No rating, 104 minutes
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