How to Win At Checkers (Every Time)


Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

How To Win At Checkers (Every Time)
"A charming, if a dark hearted, coming of age story."

The way to win at checkers (every time) is not something that this film will teach you. Sorry about that. Instead, it’ll teach you about the unfair nature of ‘fair’ systems, the futility of believing in karmic systems, and how life is for the lower class residents of Thailand.

This short, which is in fact a nearly feature length affair, is based on a two short stories by Rattawut Lapcharoensap, with the director and screenwriter Josh Kimi using them to create an examination of how brotherly love can err into the paternal. It also focuses heavily on sex politics in Thailand, and its famous kathoey (ladyboys). Told in a flashback by the young Oat (Ingkarat Damrongsakkul), it recounts two specific events that he is reminded of through a dream he is routinely haunted by. One of them is the image of his brother Ek (Thira Chutikul) accidentally self immolating when mixing homemade methamphetamine.

Copy picture

Thailand has a compulsory draft lottery for all of its male citizens at 21, and they are held in public. Oat witnesses his brother’s attempts to deal with the reality of being too poor to bribe his way out of it, and his desperate attempts to earn money at the local love cafe. Conscription is not only an issue considering Ek’s position as primary source of income for him and his sister, but also because of rising tensions in the south, and the fact that his rich boyfriend Jai (Arthur Navarat) has bribed his way out. When Oat attempts to help by stealing said bribe, Ek is only placed in a more perilous position, being forced to work as more than just a bartender for the local extortioner and crime boss.

Although the framing device is rarely reflected upon, it provides an excuse to tell this charming, if a dark hearted, coming of age story. It’s a tale of the triumph of the will of the self over the forces that conspire against the individual. Whilst Thailand is considered progressive with regard to LGBT people, and Ek and Oat’s frank friendship with local pre-op woman Kitty (Natarat Lakha) supports this, it’s also something of a criticism about the issues that surround this both in military life and prostitution. With that said, the parody of the reveal of Eighties poolside bombshells that accompanies Kitty’s introduction is a wry and humorous scene.

The film has an elegiac tone, shot in warm hazy light that captures both Thailand’s vivid natural beauty and its stark poverty. As Oat tries to learn how to best his brother in Checkers, he learns that for someone to win, the opponent has to lose, whether it’s fair or not. It’s gritty without being exploitative, and as a story that treads a line between incendiary subjects it is admirable in its restraint.

Reviewed on: 26 Jun 2015
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Coming-of-age film about a boy and his brother in Thailand.

Director: Josh Kim

Writer: Josh Kim, Rattawut Lapcharoensap

Starring: Toni Rakkaen, Ingkarat Damrongsakkul, Thira Chutikul, Arthur Navarat, Natarat Lakha, Kowit Wattanakul, Nuntita Khampiranon, Michael Shaowanasai, Anawat Patanawanichkul, Vatanya Thamdee

Year: 2015

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: Thailand, US, Indonesia


EIFF 2015

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