Thailand is so much more than martial arts, silly spy-movies, countryside-dramas and musicals. The man who started a new direction of Thai cinema is Chatrichalerm Yukol (a prince by the way). Focusing on gritty reality rather than fantasies he turned the Thai culture up-side-down. Sometimes with pure propaganda, but sometime with a gripping and intelligent crime-drama as Gunman (aka Mue Puen) from 1983. Starring is his favorite actor, Sorapong Chatree, and I think both of them are doing brilliant stuff in this movie.
Gunman begins with a long single take. Someone is sitting at the back of a motorbike, stops, walks into a restaurant, shots an man point blank and walks out again. What follows is a slightly comedic montage over witnesses trying to describe the man. Everyone has a different opinion about his look, but one thing is fore sure: he has a limp.
Ron Rittichai is Inspector Thanu Adharn, an attention seeking police officer who rather kills than ask questions. His life is a mess though, but he tries to play it cool. In another part of Bangkok is Sergeant Sommai Moungthup (Chatree) working as a hairdresser. His son is getting sicker, maybe from epilepsy and now we're starting to realise that behind this kind face is a killer, a gunman. Because the only thing Sommai can do is to kill. He does it without any hesitation.
His dream is to open a small shop outside of Bangkok, far away from the streets and the crime, and start a new life with his son. But the organization that gives him job encourages him to do more jobs, and soon the police is getting very close. Inspector Adharn isn't interested in pursuing Sommai, because Sommai saved his life in Laos once, but his colleagues, wife and press is forcing him to be more and more involved...
The storyline is classic, maybe basic, a gunman wanting to stop and get a new life. But this is so much better than I expected. The style is gritty and raw, but with beautiful cinematography and sharp editing. The Thai dvd is in 2.35:1 and the visuals, the lights and production reminds me of those cool New York-based thrillers that came from the US during the seventies. There's nothing really nice in this movie. Everyone is assholes, except Sommai's sick son. I mean, Sommai might be nice but he's still a cold blooded killer. It's a shit-world and director Chatrichalerm Yukol is eager to show us that. This is not an action movie, but it's still filled with very brutal violence - mostly gun violence - and very crude dialogue.
Yukol gives us the whorehouses, the sleazy bars, the back streets, the illness and disturbed relationships. Far from the typical happy Thai drama. This is raw film making and I'm very impressed. The acting is always a bit uneven and over-the-top in Thai movies, but this flick gives us some excellent performances. Sorapong Chatree is making the performance of his career, and is eerily convincing.
The Thai dvd has English subtitles, has the correct aspect ratio and is a good choice (and probably) to see this movie. The print is a bit beaten up, and it's taken from a video master of some kind - but it's still very acceptable. Buy it from eThaiCD.com for example.