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Thailand 2011

Drama, Crime

Pen-Ek Ratanaruang

Nopachai Chaiyanam
Sirin Horwang
Chanokporn Sayoungkul
Apisit Opasaimlikit
Kiat Punpiputt
Theeradanai Suwannahom

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Story: Tul (Nopachai Chaiyanam) is a hitman who takes out a high-ranking, corrupt official. During the mission he gets a headshot, though. Three months he lies in a coma and when he opens his eyes again he literally sees the world upside down. It's obvious to him that he can't continue with this profession and he is confronted with an identity crisis. Moreover, Tul was initially a policeman until he wanted to get someone into prison who was powerful enough to make him end up there himself. Eventually, his acquaintance Joy (Chanokporn Sayoungkul) is found dead in his apartment only a few hours after he first met her. Tul goes to prison where in a letter he turns to a doctor named "Demon" he already read about. Suddenly, Demon visits him in prison and offers him a job as a hitman to cleanse the world from evil. First, Tul declines the offer, but fate still makes him a hitman. In the present, Tul is chased after by the brother of his last victim, who also wants to get his hands on the man behind Tul. Tul is tortured, but he remains silent and he eventually manages to escape. In order to flee his pursuers he kidnaps the young woman Rin (Cris Horwang). But to escape the men after him isn't so easy after all...

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Review: Those who are familiar with Pen-Ek Ratanaruang know that they shouldn't expect a bloodspilling, epic bullet ballet here, but an introverted trip into the mind of a lonely human being. In fact, that's exactly what we get, although the trip is into the psyche of a hitman who seems to be extremely lost in this world. Accordingly, this gritty drama turns out to be quite chaotic at times, too. Many themes and aspects are thrown together. Actually, it's a worthwhile experience, but we sometimes still miss a red thread running through everything. The back and forth on the time line also aptly reflects the protagonist being torn between different life styles, yet can be tiring, too. And despite its slow pacing and the rather short running time you can't help but to want for the characters to have more depth.

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You shouldn't make the mistake to expect a lot of shootouts or action scenes in general with "Headshot". We get closer and closer to the protagonist and his goals and wishes in an almost meditative way, while the serene story is every now and then cut open by bursts of violence. However, it needs to be pointed out that they are within a reasonable framework and never become cheap showmanship. Tul is clearly someone who is forced to kill which also makes it easy for us to sympathize with him. He once was an extremely honest cop and now, after a prison sentence he didn't deserve, he wants to become a monk. But he isn't allowed. Thus, the violence is also an expression of desperation that follows Tul every step of the way. He is a cornered bull.

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The pictures are plain, as we are used to see from the director, but poetic and fraught with inner beauty. Yet, they are a lot darker, also in the color palette at display, than "Last Life in the Universe" or "Ploy". Qualitywise, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang delivers quality at the highest level. Despite their simplicity the pictures are nice to look at and always have something to them that makes you believe that there is a special meaning to them. The moments when Tul tries to lead a life as a monk almost remind you of those of an art house flick. However, those scenes as well as all others are cut very brief. The movie is often going back and forth. That's by no means confusing, it's easy to keep track of events, but it still constantly shifts focus, which in fact can be frustrating. The desperate search of the protagonist for himself is accordingly also reflected in desperation on part of the viewer.

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Moreover, you can easily see that the characters never gain the depth that we assume they would have. Of course, the story of a killer trapped in a life crisis is fascinating and you can expect the novel by Win Lyovarin, which the movie is based on, to achieve a lot more in respect to character elaboration, but with all the director's pictures being so heavy with possible meaning we would have expected a bit more depth. Instead, we get ravishingly dressed women whose characters remain in the dark. Many individual elements and moments seem well achieved, but because of Tul's concepts of life rashly put one after another alone there is no coherent picture put together here. This may of course in part be deliberately so since Tul's aimlessness and feeling of being lost, latter one being a typical element of the director's works, clearly comes to the foreground this way, but it still remains a bit frustrating.

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Despite its slow pacing the movie doesn't mark time and there are even very well done twists. The different individuals remain mysterious enough in order to pique our interest, yet aren't as otherworldly that they would give us the impression of being completely inhuman. With its ending "Headshot" manages to score, too, but this is also where it once again becomes apparent that the director doesn't always know in which direction he wants to steer his movie. A little bit of film noir, crime thriller and drama are fused into a special construct which falls short of what it would have had the potential to be. A former cop turned hitman whose traumatized brain only lets him see things upside down is actually a warrantor for an interesting movie experience. But the aimlessness of this flick sadly prevents this from being the case.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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