16 November 2015

Movie Review: How to Win At Checkers (Everytime)

When I read the description of the film, I was under the impression that we'd be watching a film about a transgender showing the boys how to get out of the Thai military draft. But the movie had nothing to do with that at all. The movie is about two brothers -- Ek and Oat (the two pictured on the right). In my mind, it is the story of Ek, the older gay brother, but told from the viewpoint of Oat, the younger brother.

Ek is 21 years old and Oat is 11 years old. Motherless, their father died in an industrial accident leaving them with his sister, their aunt. Ek and Oat are poor although the house they live in with their aunt was owned by the father subject to debt to the local black market money lender. Ek works for that money lender at one of his gay bars in Bangkok. Ek is dating Jai who comes from a much wealthier family.

So one of the threads is the beautiful and happy and normal relationship that Ek has with Jai. Aunty is against the relationship, not because its gay, but because Jai is from a different class than Ek. She warns him that it will end badly.

In Thai life, young men who are 21 must submit to a lottery system that drafts a portion of them into the military for compulsory service. The process is public and ritualized and the idea is that its up to fate. Pull "black" and you're safe. Pull "red" and you're drafted. But behind the formalities and the rules, Oat discovers that Jai and his family have paid the local money lender bribe money to ensure that Jai is not drafted.

At the draft, Jai and the moneylenders son are called by the military officers to get out of their place and go to the back of the queue. Ek pulls "red" but as the lottery gets to the back of the queue, only "black" remains and so Jai and the moneylender's son are safe.

I'm avoiding mentioning much of the excellent story that is written. It really is told from the perspective of 11 year old Oat and while at first you are lured into his world, to see if from his eyes, by the end you are crying his tears.

This is definitely worth watching. I was informed that the Thai government has submitted it to the Academy as its entry into the Oscars this year.

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