How to Win at Checkers
How to Win at Checkers is a Thai coming-of-age drama based on the bestselling book by Rattawut Lapcharoensap. Written and directed by Josh Kim, this debut feature explores a corrupt, financially ravaged Thailand through the eyes of a young boy called Oat (Toni Rakkaen). Oat’s chief bond is with his older brother Ek (Thirka Chutikul) and his boyfriend Jai (Arthur Navarat).
Being screened at the Berlin Film Festival lends this movie a certain degree of expectation, but sadly it doesn’t deliver in the ways it could have.
Largely underwhelming, How to Win at Checkers skims a lot of fertile topics without tackling them head on. The gay and transgender characters in the film, although acknowledged, are treated indifferently. This might infuriate some viewers who expect a definitive voice on the progressive elements of Thai culture. Unlike in the West, perhaps Thai attitudes to non-heterosexual relationships aren’t embroiled in moral and political debate.
The film opens up a terse dialogue with a number of broader political topics but, again, ruffles few feathers in its reluctance to probe deeper. The dilemma of making a living leaves characters flirting with the prospect of haggling the black market, crime, and prostitution, yet little – if anything – is discovered about these routes as means to survive throughout the film’s duration.
The Thai preoccupation with luck is briefly hinted at by Oat’s aunt and her superstition, though it’s the military lottery at the end of the film that proves to be the crux of the story. It disrupts the dynamics of Oat, Eh, and Jai in a climactic scene that musters little energy considering its significance. At most, there are a couple of lines of dialogue regarding sacrifice and the importance of country, religion and family.
Sadly, the bland script sucks the life out of Kim’s ability to frame a living, breathing Thailand. His eye is sharp and the film contains some interesting shots of both nature and the city. But because the writing lacks both humour and dramatic force, and falls prey to a sheepish pace, it resembles more a language course short than a powerful tale on Thai life. After the film finishes, we’re treated to a documentary segment on a transgendered person describing their experience in the army. Ironically, this is the closest the film gets to connecting with the topics it brings up.
Unfortunately, any onscreen tension evaporates due to tone transitions and non-confrontational dialogue. How to Win at Checkers might look the part, but it lacks the bravery to be anything other than a shallow drama.
How to Win at Checkers does not yet have a UK release date.
Read more of our reviews and interviews from the festival here.
For further information about Berlin Film Festival 2015 visit here.