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'Headshot': From Thailand, a moody exercise in 'Buddhist noir'

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By Robert Horton
Herald Movie Critic
@citizenhorton
Published:
When you hear the central plot turn of "Headshot," you might imagine a different kind of movie.
Here's the turn: A cop-turned-hitman is shot in the head during a job. When he wakes from a coma, he sees the world upside-down. Literally: His field of vision is now reversed, top to bottom.
Reading this premise when the movie played at this year's Seattle International Film Festival, I imagined a kind of Asian crime thriller with a dynamite gimmick. I mean what's not to like about a hitman who sees the world upside down?
"Headshot" is not that movie. I'd still kind of like to see that genre flick, but "Headshot is not that movie.
"Headshot" is a contemplative (though still explosively violent) look at the jumble of the main character's life, laced with sadness and regret. This is not unexpected, coming from director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, the Thai filmmaker whose "Last Life in the Universe" was a memorably dreamy experience.
The main character is Tul, played by the powerful Nopachai Chaiyanam. As a policeman, he's so honest that he irritates the wrong political power-brokers and loses his job.
Even his work as a hired killer is on the side of justice; he only accepts jobs that wipe out bad guys. After he takes the bullet to the head (this happens very early), Tul attempts to figure out what happened, and we see various stages of his life pass by out of order.
I will admit that it wasn't always easy to understand which stage of Tul's life we were watching at any given time, although the giant scar on his skull is a giveaway whenever we see it. Two significant women pass through his life, both of whom turn out to be more than what they first seem.
Far from offering the reassuring conventions of an action movie, "Headshot" allows all this to unfold in a drifting, dreamlike manner that is not always easy to track. Ratanaruang has described his movie as a "Buddhist noir," and I guess that's a fair description of its inward-looking style.
Fans of Asian cinema should absolutely check it out, and so should anybody interested in Buddhist noir (a small subset of the audience, admittedly, but there you go).
I can't get fully on board with the movie's opaque approach, but it does have a tendency to stay in the head, if you'll pardon the unfortunate turn of phrase.
"Headshot" (2½ stars)
A cop-turned-hitman takes a bullet to the head, and sees the world upside-down as a result. This contemplative picture from "Last Life in the Universe" director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang has a drifting quality that doesn't make it easy to track its shifts in time, although it does set a mood. In Thai, with English subtitles.
Rated: Not rated; probably R for violence, nudity.
Showing: Grand Illusion.
Story tags » Movies

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