There are films with a great premise that are compelling and entertaining enough to hold your attention in the moment, but once it is over you're left with a feeling of not quite being satisfied. It is as if you were watching the film, hoping it would deliver just a little bit more to have warranted all the attention you've given it; but in the end it never quite gives you what you were looking for. These movies are not bad, so much as they are forgettable, which in some ways is just as bad as being bad, because if a film fails to make a lasting impression, it's almost as if it never existed. And that's pretty much the case with director Chookiat Saveerakul's 13: Game of Death, a grim psychological thriller with a side helping a dark comedy.
Krissada Sukosol stars as Puchit, a hapless loser whose life is falling apart. Puchit's girlfriend has recently dumped him, his mother keeps borrowing money he can't really afford to give her, and his car has been repossessed. Heavily in debt, things seem to go from bad to worse when he is fired from his thankless job. But just as Puchit is about to begin his free-fall into desperation, he gets a mysterious call on his cell phone. The unknown voice on the phone tells him that he has a chance to win $100 million (in Thai dollars, which is closer to $3 million U.S.), and all Puchit has to do is complete thirteen simple challenges. Of course, the challenges, which start out with killing and then eating a bug, only become more and more difficult. The tasks quickly mount in severity--eating a plate of feces, beating up a homeless man and stealing his money, getting into a fight with a street thug--and soon our hero finds himself losing a grip on his morality (not to mention his sanity). As it turns out, Puchit is part of an elaborate on-line game show that is manipulating everything around him. Meanwhile, a former co-worker with a crush on him is trying to figure out what is going on, and stop Puchit before he does something truly terrible, as is a cop trying to unravel the mystery of the deadly game show.
13: Game of Death has a really great concept, but it never really lives up to its potential. Having seen much of Asian Extreme films that have been flooding the U.S. market for several years now, Saveerakul's has trouble finding its own extremeness. Puchit's earlier challenges don't seem that different from something you might see on Fear Factor, and by the time he starts doing the really bad stuff, you practically don't care. In fact, for the most part the film never really sets up anything that you wouldn't expect. Simply by virtue of the type of movie this is, it is only a matter of time before we see Puchit asked to do something really heinous--like killing someone.
Sukosol gives a solid performance as Puchit--a half Thai, half American loner haunted by the memories of his traumatic childhood. As a character study of a man who allows himself to pushed to the brink of moral bankruptcy just for a cash prize, 13: Game of Death is more on the mark with Sukosol's performance than it is with the script, based on Eakasit Thairaat's comic book. The film is certainly well-shot and edited, and is just engaging enough to keep you watching, although it does tend to drag and run it bit too long. And by the time it is over, you can't help but wonder how much better (and extreme) it might have been if Chan-wook Park or Takashi Miike had been the director, and you're pretty much asking yourself, "Was it really worth it?"