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Review: 6ixtynin9

The film’s deadly punchlines suggest the archetypal “cosmic joke” with more emphasis on the tragic side of the tragedy-comedy continuum.

Photo: Palm Pictures

Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s 6ixtynin9 has all the ramped-up energy of the Tarantino and Boyle films it has been arbitrarily compared to. But Ratanaruang enriches his crime caper—spiked as it is with straining-to-be-colorful heavies and literal visions of blood money—with a backdrop of an economy in flux. The film opens not with a bang, but with a whimper. Tum (Lalita Panyopas) is a secretary at a nondescript financing corporation, and the building’s entire secretarial pool has been summoned to play a cruel game of fate in order to downsize. An almost surreal tableau, the identically blue-uniformed women shake a can of red plastic sticks with gold numbers on them until one falls out, representing each woman’s bid to remain employed. If their number is chosen, they will lose their job. Tum’s number is called, and she immediately contemplates suicide. But when she wakes up the next morning, she discovers that a box filled with an obscene amount of money has been left on her doorstep. Just as the numerical serendipity of the colored sticks threatened to plunge her into a fiscal abyss, likewise her sudden good fortune is the result of a stroke of arithmetical chance: the gold number 6 on her apartment door is missing a nail, causing it to swing around and become a 9, which just happens to be the apartment for a Mafiosi drop-off of crooked kickboxing profits. Ratanaruang’s preoccupation with the vicissitudes of fate ensure that, as a character, Tum is never more than an open vessel, reacting with screen-door-eyed acquiescence. Likewise, after the first few bodies pile up, it’s hard to look upon any new character as anything other than a potential straw-casket filler. But as far as clay pigeons go, 6ixtynin9’s rogue gallery is vividly drawn with an attention to (make that fixation on) detail—from the friendly, melon-biceped cop’s uncanny resemblance to John Cassavetes (the prurience of his presence fulfills the Anglicized title’s Rick James-worthy sex pun) to the corpulent mob boss’s sinister way with a pink plastic kids’ comb. And Ratanaruang’s suggestive pallor of economic despair lends a tricky moral dimension to a film that, most often, formally resembles the casually amoral cinema of grunty sensation. Its deadly punchlines suggest the archetypal “cosmic joke” with more emphasis on the tragic side of the tragedy-comedy continuum.

Cast: Lalita Panyopas, Tasanawalai Ongartittichai, Black Phomtong, Sritao, Arun Wannardbodeewong, Sirisin Siripornsmathikul, Likit Thongnak Director: Pen-Ek Ratanaruang Screenwriter: Pen-Ek Ratanaruang Distributor: Palm Pictures Running Time: 118 min Rating: NR Year: 1999 Buy: Video

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