Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
'Thor: The Dark World' Director Alan Taylor Says His Marvel Experience Was "Particularly Wrenching" 'Thor: The Dark World' Director Alan Taylor Says His Marvel Experience Was "Particularly Wrenching" Watch: Anna Paquin Is Rescued In Clip From 'X-Men: Days of Future Past - The Rogue Cut' Watch: Anna Paquin Is Rescued In Clip From 'X-Men: Days of Future Past - The Rogue Cut' Kevin Feige Says 'Spider-Man 2' Is "One Of The Best Superhero Movies Ever," Talks John Hughes Influence On New Spidey Kevin Feige Says 'Spider-Man 2' Is "One Of The Best Superhero Movies Ever," Talks John Hughes Influence On New Spidey Watch: Live Your Ultimate Fantasy With The First NSFW Trailer For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' Watch: Live Your Ultimate Fantasy With The First NSFW Trailer For Gaspar Noe's 'Love' Review & Recap: ‘True Detective’ Season 2, Episode 2, ‘Night Finds You’ Review & Recap: ‘True Detective’ Season 2, Episode 2, ‘Night Finds You’ Terrence Malick’s ‘Knight Of Cups’ Won’t Arrive Until 2016, Austin Music Scene Drama Not Titled ‘Weightless’ Terrence Malick’s ‘Knight Of Cups’ Won’t Arrive Until 2016, Austin Music Scene Drama Not Titled ‘Weightless’ The Punisher Will Reportedly Appear As The Villain In ‘Daredevil’ Season 2 The Punisher Will Reportedly Appear As The Villain In ‘Daredevil’ Season 2 'Lucy 2' And 'Colombiana 2' Are In Development 'Lucy 2' And 'Colombiana 2' Are In Development Mixed Reactions For Marvel's 'Ant-Man' After First Press Screening Plus New Promos And Pics Mixed Reactions For Marvel's 'Ant-Man' After First Press Screening Plus New Promos And Pics The Essentials: The 5 Best Rachel McAdams Performances The Essentials: The 5 Best Rachel McAdams Performances Kevin Feige Says 'Spider-Man' Is "Definitely A Sony Picture," Talks Role Of 'Ant-Man' In Phase 3, More Kevin Feige Says 'Spider-Man' Is "Definitely A Sony Picture," Talks Role Of 'Ant-Man' In Phase 3, More First Reviews For 'Terminator Genisys' Suggest Franchise Didn't Need To Say "I'll Be Back" First Reviews For 'Terminator Genisys' Suggest Franchise Didn't Need To Say "I'll Be Back" Kit Harington & Dakota Fanning Replace Robert Pattinson & Mia Wasikowska In 'Brimstone' Kit Harington & Dakota Fanning Replace Robert Pattinson & Mia Wasikowska In 'Brimstone' The Essentials: The 5 Best Colin Farrell Perfomances The Essentials: The 5 Best Colin Farrell Perfomances The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 10 All-Time Best Episodes Of 'Parks And Recreation' The 10 All-Time Best Episodes Of 'Parks And Recreation' The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

Tribeca Review: Thai Existentialist Hitman Film 'Headshot' Proves The Genre Still Has A Pulse

Photo of Erik McClanahan By Erik McClanahan | The Playlist April 20, 2012 at 11:05AM

The hitman genre has been done to death. If cinema can be a reflection of the times we live in, and a recorded piece of history of what the filmmakers are concerned with at the time of inception and production, then it’s amazing any of us are still alive. When done well, the genre can be a lot of fun – as well as dramatic, escapist, cool and artful – but there’s just too many professional killers running amok in the movies.
1
Headshot

This is a reprint of our review from the Vancouver International Film Festival.

The hitman genre has been done to death. If cinema can be a reflection of the times we live in, and a recorded piece of history of what the filmmakers are concerned with at the time of inception and production, then it’s amazing any of us are still alive. When done well, the genre can be a lot of fun – as well as dramatic, escapist, cool and artful – but there’s just too many professional killers running amok in the movies.

So if every story in the genre has already been told, then why make a hitman film? For one, you could argue that about every single genre out there. There are no new stories. But there is always a new, inventive and/or clever way to tell a story. And cinema is nothing if not a referential medium, as all filmmakers constantly steal from (or to put it nicely, pay homage to) their heroes, repurposing and updating themes, shots, characters, etc. to suit the needs of their film in search of making something fresh, like a giant ball of clay that is constantly reshaped and changing in size.

Headshot

While “Headshot,” the latest film from Thai genre auteur Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (the excellent “Last Life in the Universe”), is by no means original, it’s how the story is told that makes it special. Also, it’s just a great piece of stylish, badass neo-noir cinema. It’s part “Blast of Silence,” part “The Killer,” with elements of a ‘Bourne’-style on-the-run thriller and, in the film’s freshest contribution to the assassin genre, steeped in Buddhist philosophy. This is a film that takes time to consider the consequences of a life as a hired killer. Pen-Ek is concerned with not just the cool and entertaining aspects of this kind of movie (of which he delivers in spades), but also the nature and subjectivity of fate. Is life a series of random, bizarre coincidences? Or is there a puppet master pulling all the strings? Is one belief more meaningful than the other?

Things seem awfully familiar in the opening scene; an order is sent out for a hit on a politician. Tul (Nopachai ‘Peter’ Jayanama) receives the message and sets out to do his job, disguising himself as a Buddhist monk. He gets his man, but is shot in the head in one of the film’s many flat-out cool-looking shots, a falling POV on camera blood spatter. Awaking from a coma three months later and now seeing everything upside down (a nice, fairly subtle metaphorical touch, reminiscent of visual techniques used in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"), Tul reflects on how and why he got to this point in his life.

Headshot

Turns out he used to be a very good, incorruptible cop who landed in jail for refusing a bribe (and subsequently beating the shit out of the briber with a chair) seven years prior to his titular headshot. In jail, he becomes obsessed with an author known only as Demon. He reaches out to his favorite writer, who comes to prison to visit Tul, and offers him a job in his secret organization as a hitman (“We prefer the term assassination expert,” he says).

Demon believes that certain people – corrupt politicians, top tier drug dealers and those escaping punishment through legal loopholes – are better off dead rather than allowing Darwinism to take its “evil” course, and Tul comes to believe an eye for an eye is the only appropriate approach to obtaining justice, and thus begins his descent as a soulless, cold blooded killer-for-hire. Along the way through an awesomely convoluted back-and-forth-through-time storyline he meets a couple women and they get him thinking he may have made a misstep or two in life, and Tul seeks out redemption.

Headshot

Pen-Ek, who goes by the nickname of Tom, not unlike the other leading filmmaker of the Thai new wave, Apichatpong Weerasethakul (he goes by Joe), is a gifted filmmaker, and we look forward to further exploring his body of work. He seems unabashed in his love of genre movies, and enjoys twisting their tropes like a pretzel to suit his thematic and narrative interests. He’s also not afraid of a bit of hard violence and ultra-stylish shot composition. In “Headshot,” he presents the story like a compulsive liar taking a polygraph test. The quick jolts of gunplay and action raise the excitement level, and then things calm down to a more contemplative approach.

The film’s striking visual style is perfectly in step with the narrative structure, balancing Thailand’s serene forests and rivers with cold cityscapes, and often shot in near darkness that’s always comprehensible. Thanks to DoP Chankit Chamnivikaipong’s masterful use of the Red camera, these scenes conjure the literal definition of film noir. “Headshot” proves the hitman genre still has a strong pulse. [A-]

This article is related to: Tribeca Film Festival, Headshot, Review


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates