6ixtynin9 (Ruang talok 69) (1999)

[14 April 2005]

By Kevin Jagernauth


A group of women bank employees are called into an office and informed that three of them will be laid off, depending on who draws the unlucky straw. As the straws’ numbers are named, the women weep and wonder aloud how they will pay their bills or support their families. All of them that is, except Tum (Lalita Panyopas), who quietly goes to her desk, packs up her belongings, and heads home.

At the beginning of Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s second film, 6ixtynin9 (Ruang talok 69), we’re not sure why Tum seems so nonchalant, and we never do find out. The next morning, the job is a distant memory, as a noodle box appears mysteriously in front of her apartment door filled with $25 000 Thai Baht (about one million U.S. dollars). Accidentally left behind by some simple-minded gangsters, the box sets off a gang war. Tum decides to use the money to start a new life in a new country, even as the gangsters come looking for their misplaced cash. In order to protect her newfound fortune, Tum fends off hoods and nosy neighbors, leading to an impressive body count.

Though the cover of 6ixtynin9‘s DVD boasts comparisons to Pulp Fiction and Shallow Grave, Ratanaruang’s film is more lead-footed than either. As the corpses pile up, the film focuses on Tum’s immediate problem (how to dispose of them) rather than exploring how a bank clerk might turn so suddenly into a cold-blooded killer. If there is a connection between the desperation of downtrodden worker and a killer, Ratanaruang doesn’t connect the dots or even support this theory in any concrete way. There is an early conversation between Tum and a nosy visitor to her building in which he congratulates Tum on having a job in the financial sector as many of his friends have become unemployed. It could be inferred that with a financial ticket to a better life, Tum justifies her diminished morals, but the film’s baffling “twist” ending, in which Tum suddenly gains a conscience, throws any such conclusion out the window.

The film makes subtle references to the financial depression that hit Asia in the late ‘90s, but 6ixtynin9‘s stripped down DVD presentation offers no extras that might have put the film in context. The subtitling is also woeful, with spelling and grammatical errors rife throughout. For a filmmaker who is quietly gaining a reputation for his visually intriguing and thematically dense work, it’s almost inexcusable to give this early work such shoddy treatment.

Any enjoyment we might take in Tum’s lethal triumphs is diminished by the fact that the gangsters are incredibly stupid (they mistake Tum’s apartment number 6 for apartment number 9 which leads to his fiasco in the first place). Tum doesn’t so much triumph over adversity as take advantage of idiotic and inept opponents.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/6ixtynin9-dvd/