“How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)”
Facing the Future
Eleven-year-old Oat is facing an uncertain future. His parents have both died and his brother who has been raising him has to submit to the military draft lottery in Thailand. He has no luck trying to convince his brother what to do and so he takes matters into his own hands and this has some unexpected results. Set in the poorer sections of Bangkok, the film is based on stories by Rattawut Lapcharoensap, and it looks at the joys and challenges of coming of age in the Thailand of today and is directed by Josh Kim (his first film).
In the poor areas of Bangkok, people grow old quickly—they have to cope with a great deal and this brings maturity on early. With the deaths of their parents Oat, his little sister and his older brother Ek move in with their aunt. Ek works in a bar for male prostitutes and transvestites. He is involved in a relationship with Jai, the son of rich parents, and they have been “together” since they studied in the same school. However, their love is uneven and this is tested when the time for the draft comes up for Ek. The draft is a lottery that decides who must do military service and who can stay at home.
Young Oat steals money from the local mafia boss so that he can buy their his brother’s way out of the army but things do not go as he planned. His actions have dramatic consequences. Oat narrates the story and the film is a refreshingly unadorned and impartial look at a loving environment where social conditions are governed by venality, corruption and false ideals.
The film takes a hard look at a corrupt and financially ravaged Thailand through the eyes of Oat (Toni Rakkaen). Oat’s is close to his older brother Ek (Thirka Chutikul) and his boyfriend Jai (Arthur Navarat). It looks at a lot of topics including gay and transgender life and government corruption. We see that unlike in the West, perhaps Thai attitudes to non-heterosexual relationships are not taken up in moral and political debate. However, we see things only on the surface as if the film is reluctant to go any deeper. We do see the problems that are faced in attempting to make a living and that this is a cause for people going to the black market and into crime and prostitution. Whether this works are not is not explored. What we do see is the Thai preoccupation with luck but just briefly. Oat’s aunt is superstitious and while this is hinted at, we realize that it is the military lottery that is the center of the story. It changes the dynamics of the characters. Sacrifice and the importance of country, religion and family are really played down and this seems to be in contrast to what I have read about the country. Director Kim’s eye is sharp and there are some very interesting cinematography but because there is a lack of humor and dialogue, everything seems to move slowly. This lack of dialogue also prevents a good deal of understanding. Any tension that there is evaporates and what good have been a great film is actually just a good one.