13 : Game Of Death (2006)

Pusit is in trouble. On one single day his car gets repossessed, he’s fired from his job and his debts crawl so far into the red his wallet is bleeding. Looking at a fantastically bleak future, a strange phone call offering him money for simple tasks seems too good to be true. The first task is to swat a fly that’s annoying him. Doing so gains him 10,000 Thai Baht. The next task is to eat the dead fly. 50,000 Baht instantly appears in his bank account. Despite being alone in a solitary stairwell at work, somehow the caller can see what Pusit is doing, and we quickly realise something sinister is happening to the luckless office worker.

Once the first two challenges are completed the caller offers Pusit a chance to play the rest of the game, with 13 challenges in total, the completion of the thirteenth winning him 100 Million Baht (the equivalent of nearly £1.8 million). Three rules apply, and if he breaks any of them then all money gained would instantly be removed. Pusit agrees to play, and when told “If you have any parting words for your colleagues, please do it now” it feels like the words of an executioner rather than the host of a game show.

Naturally the game’s challenges escalate, and Pusit finds himself in some horrific and morally compromising situations. Fuelled by greed and hope, how far Pusit will go to achieve his goals is tested to the limit, and once the police and his friend Tong get involved the game becomes extremely dangerous. As our protagonist, Pusit is an everyman, a nice guy in a bad situation, who provides for his mother and wouldn’t screw over his colleagues for a decent sale, and this makes him sympathetic despite his later actions.

13: Game of Death has a simple premise but it is executed finely – creative, intelligent and occasionally amusing (“Your challenge: make 3 children cry” is especially funny). Some of the tests are expected or predictable, some are wild and brilliantly constructed, and others are truly disturbing. It is a gripping piece of film-making with a clear goal and smart direction. Sadly the film is let down tonally with needlessly comedic moments during heightened tension, but this is more the Thai sense of humour rather than bad acting or direction. There are some odd pieces of scripting too, some wild coincidences and a luke-warm ending, but overall 13: Game of Death is enjoyable and thought-provoking. With its heavy-handed social commentary, it’s bound to find itself remade in America, which may iron out some of the odder moments or may just end up being a another ham-fisted remake of a decent oriental horror. Time will tell.

Truly disgusting in places, utterly bonkers in others, 13: Game of Death is inspired stuff that makes you question your own moral boundaries whilst keeping you thoroughly entertained. An enjoyable romp and a welcome addition from the Thai film industry. Great fun.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

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