Judge Joel Pearce doesn't understand why everyone giggles when they see the title of this Thai crime comedy.
How far would you go to protect a secret?
The Thai film 6ixtynin9 takes the plot structure of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and replaces the breakneck pace and editing with something more vibrant and laid-back. The result is very unique, and quite a kick in the pants for crime comedy fanatics. It takes the genre to its logical extremes and beyond.
Facts of the Case
Tum (Lalita Panyopas) is having a very bad week. The victim of some serious bad luck, she's been laid off from her job and can't even afford to buy groceries. It seems that her luck is turning when a box with $25,000 arrives on her doorstep, but it's really just a mix-up involving a broken apartment number. When two gangsters show up to reclaim the money, Tum decides to hang onto it, and both gangsters end up dead. Once that first step is made, she will have to see it through to the end, even when a number of other parties get involved and the bodies start to pile up in her apartment.
There is no shortage of crime comedies that involve mistaken identities, innocent people who are unwittingly placed in the center of bloody Mob wars, and characters who get in way over their heads after one or two bad mistakes. 6ixtynin9 certainly has all of those familiar elements and more: the supporting characters are wacky and colorful, the camera work is almost too stylish for its own good, and none of the characters seem particularly capable. Still, the different location and tone manages to give it the illusion of freshness, and some of the twists managed to catch me off guard.
Just about everything in the film oozes with style. The cinematography is more Tarantino than Richie, which fits better with the lush colors and vibrant locations that are often associated with Thailand. Director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang shows an impressive level of boldness and restraint, including plenty of grisly moments without ever letting things get so graphic that they are no longer funny. The end is also unexpected. Rather than the last ironic twist of similar movies that guarantees the continuance of the plot beyond the last frame of the film, 6ixtynin9 closes things off in a thoughtful and meaningful way. The larger arc of the story is more important than that quick final laugh. There are plenty of laughs in between, though, including some surprisingly low-brow sexual jokes that somehow work in this strange mixing pot of material.
The other thing that elevates 6ixtynin9 from "genre rip-off" to "cool flick" status is the fantastic performance from Lalita Panyopas. Her frustration and hopelessness as she is fired is quite moving, with far more depth than would be expected in this type of film. When she suddenly finds herself trying to hide dead bodies and escape with the money, it isn't nearly the stretch it ought to be. We get to see into Tum's imagination at times, but it's never confusing. By the end of the film, she becomes quite good at taking care of these unpleasant details, but she never becomes an action star in the way that some film characters do—developing high level martial arts skills over the course of a film. The rest of the cast is entertaining, but at times they seem to be cardboard cutouts of genre archetypes that we have all seen before. That doesn't make them any less funny, though, and the moments with the bumbling goons are just as good here as they were in Snatch.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
With a movie this fun, it's a shame that the DVD doesn't really deliver. The video transfer is anamorphic, but tends to be quite ugly throughout. The colors in the film are bright and varied, and the inclusion of some hefty edge enhancement makes them almost garish at times. There are a number of examples of shimmering and compression errors. I'm not really sure how much of this is a problem with the source print and how much is a problem with the transfer, but I do know that a film shot this well ought to look better than this on DVD. It does improve slightly as the film goes on, or perhaps I was simply enjoying myself enough that I stopped noticing. The sound transfer is better, arriving on a surround track that is relatively free of noise and which assaults the ears from all directions. There are some obvious errors in the subtitles, a flaw that always seems so sloppy.
A healthy offering of bonus features would have made up for a disappointing transfer on the disc, but all we get here is the original trailer. It would have been interesting to hear some interviews about the production of the film, since it is something of an anomaly in the world of Thai films.
Yeah, the DVD pretty much sucks, but that doesn't prevent 6ixtynin9 from being a film well worth hunting down. There have been numerous crime capers since Tarantino and Richie hit the scene, but few of them successfully capture their sense of fun the way that Pen-Ek Ratanaruang has.
Not guilty. Damned if I am going to get in the way of Tum's escape from her terrible life.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Palm Pictures
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