DVD Review - How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)
Written and directed by Josh Kim, a Korean-American, this movie is an adaptation of the book Sightseeing by Rattawat Lapcharoensap who was raised in Bangkok but born in Chicago and who graduated from the University of Michigan. Lapcharoensap published Sightseeing in 2005. It was basically a collection of seven, short stories that in many ways reflect an outsider's perspective of Indochina. Kim's film is similarly a kind of outsider's perspective, which makes it odd that Thailand would make Kim's work its official submission.
However, as you watch this movie, it becomes clear that Kim's outsider perspective doesn't feel outsider at all. It feels ever present, ever immersed and ever connected to that country. If anything, this movie is about a kind of clashing of those perspectives, both outsider and insider, where ultimately the insider prevails. It's told through the relationships of one's brother and that brother's gay male lover.
Ingkarat Damrongsakkul co-stars as Urupong Rattanaram, or Oat, the younger brother of Ek. He's your average prepubescent boy, probably 10 but no older than 12 years-old most likely. Because of his poverty, there's a lot he hasn't been able to do, but he seems otherwise happy, despite his fellow orphan-status. Oat is the narrator. The movie is told mostly through his point-of-view, and he's the one who points out the differences between Ek and Jai.
In the United States, there is a distinction between white people and all other people of whatever ethnicity. White people have more privilege and opportunities, not all deserved or fair. White people have a legacy of getting an advantage or taking advantage of people who are poor and darker skinned. This distinction might be what is an undercurrent or implication of Oat pointing out those differences between Ek and Jai. Therefore, racism is subconscious for Oat and subtext for this film.
At a crucial moment, Ek tells Jai, "We live in two different worlds." This line of dialogue seems to refer more to the themes of Lapcharoensap's book, that of outsiders and foreigners in an outside or foreign land. Yet, those themes resonate more through Oat's experiences. A lot of it could be the normal discoveries of youth, but it's less about Oat discovering these things as it is about his reactions to them.
Unlike the recent, Michael Moore film Where to Invade Next, the general sentiment is to reject these discoveries as intrusions of foreign people through culture or ideas. Instead, the sentiment seems to be stick to one's own. In a weird way, Kim excitingly makes the film a love triangle between Ek, his boyfriend Jai and Ek's brother Oat. Ek has a choice to make, his boyfriend or his brother. Choosing Jai would almost be like going with the foreigner, whereas the choice of Oat would obviously be sticking to one's own.
Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains sexual situations and a disturbing image.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 19 mins.