Thai director Chukiat Sakveerakul wants to play a game with you. Adapted from the ‘My Mania’ comic book series written by Eakasit Thairaat – which successfully blends violent action, black comedy and social commentary – 13: Game of Death tells the tale of a desperate man caught up in a horrifying underground game.
Thai-American singer/actor Krissada Terrence stars as ‘average Joe’ Phuchit, and you have to feel sorry for him, in no time at all he’s lost his girlfriend and car, not to mention the thankless job he clambers out of bed for each and every morning. To make matters worse, his own mother is bleeding him dry. So it's little wonder that he’s more than a little curious when a mysterious caller invites him to participate in a secret game.
The prize; 100 million baht. All he has to do is complete thirteen tasks in one day, the first of which seems straightforward enough. Sounds like a plan, though I have to say from personal experience, killing a fly can be quite a tricky task unless you’re blessed with the reflexes of Mr Miyagi. The next challenge is to eat the fly he’s killed. There's no turning back for Phuchit now (an appropriate name when mispronounced); he only has eleven more challenges to overcome, but what starts simple turns deadly as the tasks become increasingly dangerous, sinister and disturbing.
It’s an intriguing premise then, and Sakveerakul handles directorial duties well enough. The first thing you will notice is the delightful humour running through its veins. A hallmark of recent Thai productions, the screenplay is littered with black humour and random quirkiness. Take Phuchit’s work colleagues for example, one of which reports him for assault after an altercation. In order to fill out the police report the officer needs to know his full title, but Phuckit lives such a meaningless existence not even his boss knows what his last name is.
The more outrageous the circumstance the more humorous the film becomes, and it certainly makes for an entertaining ride. Phuckit reaches breaking point early on; a broken man without fear and emotion replaces the meek and mild doormat of the opening act. Sakveerakul could have taken the David Fincher approach – all dark, gloomy and self important – but he opts for a lighter tone that embraces the absurdity of the situation. Though it has to be said, you would think a criminal on the run might consider changing his blood stained shirt every once in a while.
The film isn’t without its faults. Some of the early challenges lack invention, and thrills for that matter. Modern horror audiences have grown up with the likes of Saw, Martyrs and Frontiers, which pave the way for deeper waters and darker consequence. The opening challenges in 13: Game Of Death are mild – silly even – by comparison. It’s not until the final act that events take a terrifying turn for the better.
Not only that, 13: Game of Death often feels like a one-man show because the supporting players don’t really get a look in. There is a cop on Phuckit’s tail but you will do well to notice him. His female co-worker/love interest fares a little better but the role still feels under-developed. Her continued presence lacks meaning and serves only to extend an all ready ample running time. Having said that, the ending really is a blast. It’s bleak, devastating and the less said about it the better.
13 might be unlucky for some but Game Of Death should be considered anything but. Dark and deadly with a delicious sense of humour, this is one Thai thriller well worth the roll of a dice. So why don’t you take the call? You never know, it might be your lucky day. AW