Contemporary World Cinema
SIFF Says:Set in the dusty, poverty-stricken outskirts of Bangkok, this Thai drama introduces us to Oat, a pre-teen orphan who lives with his aunt, little cousin, and openly gay older brother, Ek. Oak and Ek’s relationship is realistic and tender, focusing on Oak’s idolization of his older brother, Ek’s incessant good-natured bullying, and the important moments in between, like playing checkers and riding motorcycles. When Ek receives a notice in the mail to attend a military lottery, where if you draw a black card you stay home, with a red card you are drafted, the event looms heavily in Oat’s mind. Overhearing that Ek’s long-term and wealthy boyfriend Jai has bribed his way into securing a black card, Oat decides he’ll dip his foot into the criminal world to steal a bribe as well and save his brother from going away. HOW TO WIN AT CHECKERS (EVERY TIME) is a sensitive coming-of-age narrative that is careful to balance out its melancholic moments with plenty of humor, all the while opening eyes to Thailand’s HUNGER GAMES-style military lottery and liberal views of homosexuality.
To American eyes, the most striking thing about this story of love and bribery, based on the fiction of Rattawut Lapcharoensap, might be its treatment of queer and trans characters. They are remarkable in their unremarkableness. The gangsters, the stern military officers, the religious and superstitious old auntie—they’ve all got more important things to worry about than who’s a boy, who’s a girl, and who’s somewhere in between. (BRENDAN KILEY)
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