Film #213: How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) (2015)

htwacetaka: พี่ชาย My Hero
director: Josh Kim
language: Thai
length: 80 minutes
watched on: 16 July 2016
(Rainbow Reel Tokyo – 4/6)
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)

I remember the hall I saw this film in, from when I went to see a German movie a few years ago. The seats aren’t so comfortable, and I had to crane my neck a lot, especially as it’s easy for someone to sit in front of me and block the screen. But it’s a nice venue, and there was a massive pride flag hanging outside to signpost the festival. The day I saw this, I also went to the Brazilian festival in Yoyogi park, a short walk away, and then I came back for another film in the evening.

This film was a Thai film about a boy of about ten and his older brother, who’s gay. The brother will be entered into a draft for the military, but it turns out his richer boyfriend will be exempted – the draft isn’t as random as they’d have you believe. It doesn’t take a genius to work out what will happen next. The younger boy tries to manipulate the crime boss into exempting the brother too, but has no idea how to go about this and gets them all into more trouble.

The Thai title of the film – “My brother: My hero” – makes it much more explicit that this is about the hero-worship of the older brother. In this regard it reminded me very strongly of a French film, Close to Leo, about a young boy who’s kept in the dark about his brother’s HIV diagnosis, but obviously has a close attachment to him. Close to Leo was much more leery about its younger protagonist, though – one thing I remember about it was a slow-panning shot over the prepubescent boy’s topless body lying next to his friend. In this movie, the characters are often topless, but it’s not sexualized, at least in the case of the younger boy. It seems to be more a fact of life in Thailand than anything.

The English title of the film refers to manipulation, and to a book that the boy finds during the movie and uses as a metaphor for the tricks he tries to play with adults and his brother. It also refers to his checkers games with his brother – his ultimate goal is to win as checkers, and as a reward, be allowed to ride with his brother into the city.

Basically I liked this movie. It’s got a wide variety of characters, and the gay aspect of it, similar to above, is a fact of life, not something that characters are anxious about. The family and other relationships that are portrayed are realistic. It also has high production values, and a very high-quality image and visual style.

Similar to the Indonesian movie I’d see in the queer shorts collection the previous day, this film has an atmosphere evocative of hot South East Asia, and one of the major themes that’s explored is class, but I much preferred the treatment of the gay characters in this one. And the acting was great. Perhaps I wasn’t so satisfied with the ending – it didn’t seem to go anywhere at the end. But I enjoyed it overall, and I would like to see more like this.

2 Responses to Film #213: How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) (2015)

  1. Pingback: Film #214: From Afar (2015) | reuoq

  2. Pingback: Book #108: The Devotion of Suspect X (2005) | reuoq

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