SEE THE RAIN FALL UPWARDS
by Ariel Esteban Cayer
Making his debut in 1997 with Fun Bar Karaoke (signed under the name “Tom Pannet”), Pen-Ek Ratanaruang quickly established himself as one the leading directors of the Thai New Wave, matched – as far as critical reception on the international film circuit was concerned, at least – perhaps only by Apichatpong Weerasethakul – who has since overshadowed contemporaries for a distinct blending of atmospheric magical realism and formal experimentation. No less adventurous, though, Ratanaruang has since directed 7 feature films exploring many genres, the latest of which, Headshot, is presented this year at the Fantasia Film Festival.
Following broadly similar films (following Fun Bar Karaoke with 6ixtynine9 in 1999 and Monrak Transistor in 2001) that drew early comparisons to both Quentin Tarantino and Wong Kar-Wai, the young director surprised the film world with a 180 degree turn: a contemplative odyssey into grief, longing and cross-cultural alienation in the form the sublime Japanese-Thai production Last Life in the Universe – which many argue to this day remains his masterpiece. shot by all-star cinematographer Christopher Doyle, co-penned by Thai novelist Prabda Yoon and starring the always excellent fan-favorite Tadanobu Asano and the mesmerizing Sinitta Boonyasak, Last Life took the Fantasia audiences by storm in 2004, when it took home two Gold prizes in the “Best Overall Film” and “Best Asian Film” categories. The success of Last Life in the Universe quickly led to the similarly styled Invisible Waves (2006; also shot by Doyle and starring Asano). The next year, Ploy (2007) saw the director focus deeply and fascinatingly on capturing mood and exploring dysfunctional relationships further, honing careful atmospheric landscapes, beautiful pacing and exhilarating emotions on screen like never before. This stylistic period would come to fruition with Nymph (2009), a horror-tinged relationship thriller of which the opening tracking shot is merely a taste of the unforgettable, pure, eerie and foreboding moments of cinema that await the viewer. Uncanny (and excellent) companion to Von Trier’s Antichrist (2009 as well) in its shared them of disintegration of a relationship through the intervention of the supernatural, Nymph would confirm the director’s undeniable talent for finding tremendous beauty within the basics parameters (and limitations) of cinema (light, movement and the relationship between both) and experiment with conventions of the horror film and the thriller. The film, in line with Ploy’s quiet peek into a dysfunctional love triangle – also seemed to indicate a quieter route for the director to take in the future…expectations he would prove wrong in with the existential crime thriller Headshot, which had its World Premiere at TIFF in 2011.
Reuniting the director with Nopachai Chaiyanam, who had played photographer Nop in Nymph, Headshot sees Ratanaruang blend the spiritual soul-searching, relationship-focused mode of his later film with the more gunfire-heavy genre world of his beginnings in the story of Tul, a potentially double-crossed cop-turned-hitman who, after a botched hit where he gets shot in the back of the head, sees his whole world literally turned upside down. Now seeing, as he puts it, “rain falling upwards”, he takes upon himself to find out what happened to him – a process through which he will find himself in unexpected ways. Based on Win Lyovarin’s novel Rain Falling Up the Sky, Headshot subverts a fairly conventional thriller premise with an intensely rich patchwork of flashbacks, making it one of the – if not the – most thorough character studies you will see this year at the festival. Through lost love, burgeoning spirituality and a hailstorm of bullets, Tul will come face to face with a most shocking realization: there is no right or wrong in this world, there’s just what you make of it. An explosive, gripping action-packed film that is also tremendously stimulating stylistically and that resonates deeply on a spiritual level, Headshot is part indictment of corruption in the Thai police institution, part action-packed philosophical journey, but mostly, it is a beautiful film about the inevitably cyclical nature of existence, that you should experience for yourself.
Headshot plays Thursday July 19th at 9h30pm in the J.A. De Sève theatre and again on July 24th at 1pm