While not a classic in any way, 13 Beloved is a melange of genres that won’t fail to thrill
“100 million baht can be yours, if you pass all 13 challenges.”
Krissada Sukosol Clapp plays Phuchit Puengnathong, a music salesman who, at the start of the film, is having a pretty bad day. He loses his job thanks to his co-worker stealing the deal he’s been working weeks on, he mopes about his ex-girlfriend, and his mother asks to borrow essentially every penny he has saved. Things aren’t looking too good for him until he gets a phone call telling him he has been selected as a participant for an underground, online reality show. He completes tasks asked of him, and in return they reward him with money.
He accepts, killing a fly as his first task. His second task is to eat it. He hesitates but goes for it. However there’s one catch: if you stop playing at any time, all the money you won will be taken back. As the game progresses and the tasks get out of hand, Chit must wrestle with his conscience, while avoiding confrontations with his ex-boss, ex-girlfriend, the police and his only friend Tong (Achita Sikamana), who is investigating this game show.
Much of the credit towards why the film is enjoyable goes to Clapp. He manages to make his character simple enough to be sympathetic to, while also complex enough that his decisions to go through with the tasks makes sense. Not all of the writing for his character is clever or makes a tonne of sense, but the stuff that does really works. He allows the audience to see inside himself, at his desperation and rationalisations. He’s funny, ruthless and tragic at the same time. There aren’t a lot of actors who could pull off a shit-eating scene and still come out of the film looking respectable. The rest of the cast get less time to flex their acting muscles, but they do a decent job. Sikamana is great as the concerned friend, and she ends up doing more than follow him around and ask questions. Hell, there are scenes where you start to get the impression she’s the main character. It would have been cool to split in half, with her story getting a bit more light, but as it is it works.
13 Beloved treads a very fine line between dark humour and cruelty, but never quite steps over it. The idea here is that by the time things get too dark for Chit, it’s already far too late for him to stop. It isn’t just money at stake, but his reputation and his status as a free and innocent man – and the movie doesn’t hesitate to remind us that, sure, he put himself in this position, but there’s little he can do now. As the film progresses we need to see more catalysts appear other than the initial prize money, and we do. The game soon becomes a fight for survival rather than just a simple consumerist-driven cash grab.
Director Matthew Chookiat Sakveerakul said he included a commentary on consumerism in Thailand, but I am neither a strong enough satirist nor an expert on Thai culture, so it’s tough to say if that was a successful endeavour or not, but it definitely seems like some thought towards that was put in. The end result is a film that feels like it’s saying something, but isn’t bogged down by it. Its light tone is refreshing, as it would be altogether too easy to make this a carnival of misery.
His other greatest strength, present here, is how he doesn’t quite reveal everything, letting the audience members do a lot of deciding for themselves. There are a couple of tasks which happen off-screen, which helps break the pacing down. While one task might take ten or fifteen minutes of screen time to finish, another will only be mentioned immediately after. This shakes up the rhythm of the movie, and keeps us interested. Likewise, while a lot of Chit’s backstory is revealed as the film goes on, not everything surrounding the conception of this game show is explained, either. While perhaps a little more information would be good, it doesn’t feel particularly lazy, more like the Sakveerakul knew where he was going with this, but decided to draw it out a bit more. There is a prequel short film (which supposedly aired before the film’s release, and plays a minor role here) and a sequel, and maybe they explain more about the game and its origins, but here, we don’t really get much.
And that’s fine. We’re supposed to be in the shoes of Chit and Tong, taken on a wild, uncontrollable, funny and incredibly dark ride. It’s fun to be invested in a mystery, and be able to relate to characters. 13 Beloved is original in its delivery, manages to squeeze some big laughs, while mixing in the deeply unpleasant.
Verdict: Not quite a horror, or a satire, or a thriller, 13 Beloved is nevertheless an intense, fun 100 minutes
13 Beloved (2006)
Also known as: 13 เกมสยอง (13 Game Sayong), 13: Game of Death
Director: Chookiat Sakveerakul
Writer: Chookiat Sakveerakul
Krissada Sukosol Clapp – Phuchit Puengnathong
Achita Sikamana – Tong
Sarunyu Wongkrachang – Detective Surachai
Nattapong Arunnate – Mik
Namfon Pakdee – Maew
Piyapan Choopetch – Chalerm
Philip Wilson – Phuchit’s father