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Jaffa

Jaffa views the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through the lens of young love. —Matt Anderson (DVD review...)

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The title of this 1999 Thai film is Ruang Talok 69. The subtitles translate it as “A Funny Story about 6 and 9,” which has been changed to the catchier, more suggestive 6ixtynin9. It’s an unfortunate switch because the translated title fits much better.

The movie is a quirky black comedy, with no sex, 69 or otherwise. The only hint of sex is introduced to stop a nosy neighbor from investigating the body count in our heroine’s apartment ... but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Grave Fiction

Thai black comedy enters Tarantino territory
Thai black comedy enters Tarantino territory

Tum (Lalita Panyopas) is having a bad day. She and her fellow employees drew lots to see who would get laid off. She drew number 9, and lost her job. She goes back to her apartment, number 6, although the number is missing the top nail, so it keeps falling over to look like 9. Here she discovers a big box of cash, followed soon by a couple of thugs.

Should she keep the money? Call the cops? Deal with the thugs? Ultimately, she decides to fight for the money, going mano-a-mano with these mobsters (only the first of many to come for the cash). When we see that, we realize we’re in Tarantino territory.

The movie’s ads brag that it’s a cross between Shallow Grave and Pulp Fiction. Actually, that assessment is right on target. Neither of those films were about sex; they were black comedies about crime. They both mixed gore and humor to produce visceral reactions that make you squirm and laugh at the same time. Add 6ixtynin9 to that list of dark-hearted comedies and it still adds up.

Body Count

6ixtynin9 is probably not as well produced as any of Tarantino’s films, and most of its shortcomings can probably be attributed to budget. “Corpses” can be seen breathing throughout the film. Continuity is often distractingly bad, like when a neighbor peeks through a keyhole that clearly still had keys in it only a moment before. And not every actor is as convincing as the movie’s best performers (Panyopas in the lead, and Black Phomtong as the vain mob boss).

Nevertheless, the movie is so well paced that you won’t have time to belabor the flaws, which are offset by moments of cinematic showiness that suggest at a real craftsman at work. Director Pen-ek Ratanaruong includes a four-shot, framed with two reflections to include distant actors. He’ll show a shadow instead of a face, or linger on an object during a gunfight, letting the flashes and sprays do the storytelling.

There’s also some wickedly funny humor. The deaf gangster and Tum’s crank caller are just two of the great comic foils. And while not hilarious, it’s somehow twistedly inspired to include a scene of Tum saving a friend from suicide while the body count in her apartment grows higher and higher.

Marketing Mistake

It would be easy to overlook 6ixtynin9 at the video store. Surely the new title is intended to catch your eye, but it is also off-putting. It suggests pandering and a lack of imagination, a movie more the product of a sleazy producer than a caring filmmaker. It could also be embarrassing to ask the clerk for 6ixtynin9 in front of minors or dates.

But don’t be misled by the bad title, or the heroine on the cover holding the gun, who looks more like an assassin than the Jane Everygirl she really is. Maybe you should just ask for “A Funny Story about 6 and 9” and see where that gets you.

Picture and Sound

The picture and colors are stable, but there are lots of black and white specks for a movie that’s only a few years old. I ended up thinking of the print as dirty, although on a second viewing, the specks weren’t so noticeable. In any case, if you’re a videophile with an eye for a crisp print, 6ixtynin9 probably falls a little short.

The sound is encoded in Dolby Digital. I did notice some of the music sent to the surround speakers, but the soundtrack is so unassuming — just dialogue and a little mood music — that it’s unlikely to tax your system.

DVD Extras

This release is light on extra features. The original Thai trailer is included, looking even dirtier (i.e., specked and spotted) than the feature, with badly translated English subtitles. There are also two trailers for other Palm releases. I almost missed the second trailer, which is for director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s Last Life in the Universe, because there is no chapter stop.