Of Crime, Corruption and Karma – An Interview with director Pen-ek Ratanaruang


This interview is provided by the film distributor.

Does this upside-down vision condition really exist in real life?

Win Lyovarin, the writer of the novel we adapted the film from, sent me a newspaper clipping several months ago about a guy who reads and writes upside-down since a rather young age. The man is now in his 60’s, I think. That’s as close to an upside-down vision as I’ve ever heard of. But someone actually seeing things upside-down? I don’t know…


Talking about Win Lyovarin, what is it about crime noir that attracted you? Did it originate from Lyovarin’s original story?

It’s the mystery, cigarette smoke, beautiful women, ugly men, nice clothes, betrayal and perhaps the fact that the heroes of those films or novels are usually ordinary guys who find themselves in really extraordinary situations and have to try to survive. Lyovarin wrote this novel, Fon Tok Kuen Fah, after being inspired by American film noir from the James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum era. He mentioned this very explicitly in the forward of the novel. So yes, it originates from the novel.

So to adapt to a noir milieu, did you consciously decide to make this film a departure from your recent output?

Stylistically, every film of mine is dictated by the script. It just so happened that my last 3-4 films had been scripted mostly by me from my own original ideas, so they looked and felt more or less similar. Headshot, on the other hand, was scripted from a novel written by someone else with a very clear intention to be a crime noir. So we made a conscious decision to conform to that style.


In Headshot, corruption seems to infect the very core of Thai society and politics. How much does it reflect your own belief about the present situation in Thailand?

Corruption seems to be at the very core of Thai society and politics for as far back as I remember. And I don’t think it will disappear anytime soon. This, in my opinion, comes from the fact that our country has given in to democracy without being really ready for it. Most of the people in our country are still poor, under-educated and unable to think about things beyond the simple rule of putting food in their mouths and surviving. But at one point in our country’s history, a group of men, educated in Western countries, overthrew the government and embraced a system called democracy, thinking that it would make Thailand as civilized as those countries they were educated from – a form of inferiority complex, I think. And it’s been downhill ever since.

No matter what Tul does, violence always seems to catch up with him. How much do you think this has to do with fate as opposed to karma?

[rhetorically] What’s the difference between fate and karma?


But do you think of the upside-down vision as Tul’s karmic retribution?

It may be, it may not be. But for sure, it’s something that enlightens him. Having this upside-down vision means that Tul is forced to look at the world, and life, from a different perspective, both physically and psychologically. And this is what makes him quit his profession. But as Buddhists, we believe that you get what you give. If we give kindness unto others, we get kindness back from others. In Tul’s case, he did wrong. And his most obvious wrong is killing, so there is only one way he can find redemption.


This is your second film in a row with Nopachai Jayanama (not counting your short with him in Sawasdee Bangkok). Has he in some ways become a muse for you?

In my past 14 years of filmmaking, I have yet to find a Thai actor with Nopachai’s intelligence, instinct and commitment. And since our last outing, Nymph, we’ve become good friends. This helps him to understand more about where I’m going with this film and it helps me to know what he needs from me to do his job well.


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