Friday, December 31, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Darkly comic "6ixtynin9" has innumerable pleasures

Special to The Seattle Times

Bangkok is in an economic crisis at the beginning of "6ixtynin9," a stylish, deadpan thriller from director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang. A group of blue-blazered secretaries at an unnamed financial corporation draw straws to find out which three are being laid off; an elevator at the apartment building of Ms. Tum (Lalita Panyopas), the last woman fired, is out of order (even the "Out of Order" sign, which lies dirty on the floor, is out of order); and the number on her apartment door, "6," keeps slipping into a "9."

It's this last detail that proves the most important. Shocked by her sudden dismissal, Tum walks dazed through the rest of her day. The economy stinks, she doesn't have much money, she resorts to shoplifting. At home, she contemplates suicide by drinking cleaning supplies. The next morning, she finds a noodle box filled with 1 million baht outside her door — left there, we find out later, because of the 6/9 mix-up.

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer

"6ixtynin9," with Lalita Panyopas, Surapong Mekpongsathorn, Tasanawalai Ongartittichai, Black Phomtong. Written and directed by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang. 115 minutes. In Thai with English subtitles. Rated R for violence, language and brief sexual humor. Grand Illusion.

At first she doesn't know what to do; the money's obviously not legit. This becomes painfully clear when two bruisers show up — one young and good-looking in a neck brace, the other pockmarked and pony-tailed, both wearing warm-up suits emblazoned with "Kanchit's Thai Boxing" on the back.

When the two deadpan thugs begin to argue over which brand of noodles is imprinted on the box, you suddenly realize we're verging into "Pulp Fiction" territory. These are the quirky-but-deadly variety of crooks. Less proficient than Quentin Tarantino's bad guys, they are just as prone to calamitous happenstance.

Before long, they're dead. Before long, more bodies are piling up in Tum's apartment.

Their boss is Kanchit (Black Phomtong), a fat Buddhist who lovingly combs his long hair and runs a kickboxing dojo where his students/gangsters, all clad in the same warm-up suit, sport bloody bandages. The next two flunkies he sends to Tum's apartment include a deaf kickboxer who answers phones.

Although everyone around Tum is absurd in some fashion, she is not, and that's one of the movie's strengths. Her stunned, halting reactions, as she finds herself in the middle of a gang war, ground the picture. Her point of view is often surreal, but in a real way.

But it's Ratanaruang's stylish direction that recommends the movie. From the first shot, a silent close-up of a woman's face, we know we're in the hands of someone talented and assured. Ratanaruang knows which detail to place in the foreground (a ringing phone) and which to let us search for in the background (a Princess Di coffee mug). His colors are vivid and pure under "natural" lighting and sickly under low-grade fluorescence. The soundtrack is uncluttered. Clocks tick. Birds chirp sweetly after people die. The pace is unhurried.

There is a plan to remake "6ixtynin9" in Hollywood, with Jim Fall ("The Lizzie McGuire Movie") directing. Be the coolest person on your block and see this one first.

Erik Lundegaard:

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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