Graphic Horror: 13: Game of Death
13: Game of Death 2008
Halloween is getting near and I’m down to my last couple horror movies based on comics. And as I feel like I’ve done several times on this site, I’ve gone backwards in my viewing. I initially watched this story as told by the American remake 13 Sins before coming back around and watching the original Thai version that was made a few years earlier. I knew there were several changes between the two versions but the original still had quite a bit of the same impact with the combination of suspense, comedy, and the occasional moment of gore. And as is often the case when available, I watched this film with the English dub rather than the subtitled version.
The basics of the story is that there’s a schlub who’s majorly down on his luck and randomly ends up taking part in a mysterious game show. It starts innocently enough by killing a fly for the first challenge, then eating it for the second. But as he progresses through the 13 challenges for the 100 million baht prize (roughly $3 million, translated via the dub to $1 million) the challenges get more gruesome and deadly. But ultimately, the challenges seem to be intended to change the personality of this mild mannered office worker into someone much more assertive and confident, even if it doesn’t ultimately end well for him.
As for the similarities and differences between this film and 13 Sins, this has much less of a focus on the mythology of the game itself or the ones behind it. We do get a little bit of the special investigator who is trying to catch the main character Phuchit, or Chad in the English dub, but he is basically limited to a single scene and doesn’t have much impact on the overall story. We also don’t get much of Chad’s family, instead there is a friend of his who works with him and wants to help. She also happens to stumble onto some of the inner workings of the game, but in this version it’s more about her helping Chad rather than trying to expose this game to the world. The gore in this film is also much less pronounced, with most of it happening without a close up or even completely off screen.
The main character in this film also undergoes a much more pronounced and tragic transformation than in the US version, especially notable in the motorcycle clothesline scene that takes place in both versions. In the US version, Elliot is able to remove the clothesline and save the bikers only for the film to reveal another person who sets up the same trap for the bikers to come back. It’s a significant change for two reasons, one is that it subverts the expectations for anyone who had already seen this version of the film, but it also removes much of the blame for the bikers’ deaths. Here, the death lies directly in Chad’s hands. He may not have known what he was doing, but they still died by his hands, while Elliot has the blame one extra step removed. One final interesting difference is that in the US version, the voice on the phone became an additional character. He initially sounded like a prototypical game show host before transitioning into something more sinister as the film progressed. Here, the voice on the phone changes with each challenge and has a much more casual tone to it.
Chad himself is very much a down on his luck schlub. At the beginning of the film, he gets his car repossessed because he hasn’t been able to make payments on it. He works in sales but had his last major sale sniped out from under him by his own co-worker. His ex-girlfriend left him to become a major singer and is on the rise to fame. And to top things off, his mother takes advantage of his generosity by continually hitting him up for money even though she spent his last gift on a phone for his sister. There are also touches of the challenges that represent moments from his past, like during challenge number five he’s required to eat a platter of shit which was also something bullies tried to get him to do when he was younger. That also becomes one of the many moments of situational humor throughout the film as his ex-co-workers end up coming into the same restaurant as him, and shortly afterwards more than one person comments on how bad his breath smells. There are a few other challenges that cause him to have flashbacks towards his abusive father which all culminate in the final challenge where he is supposed to kill his father with a similar knife that he tried to use to kill his father when he was younger. The twist at the end is that even though he has done some pretty bad things over the course of the game, he hasn’t changed enough to kill his own father, but his father was also playing the game and gladly kills his own son for the prize money. It’s also an interesting touch that Chad’s father is very much American which adds extra context to the film even though it’s never explicitly explored.
There is also the ongoing thread of his friend Tong who initially sees him going about some of his challenges but is unable to confront him directly. She is a computer specialist so she’s able to hack her way into the game itself to see some of the video feeds of Chad and tries to stop him. Her journey isn’t a major part of the plot, but it’s used well enough to give a slight break from Chad’s exploits. She even gets to see the face behind Chad’s game who ends up being a teenage kid with a handful of bodyguards. It does take a little bit away from the game that works better as this faceless entity – something the US version handles better, but the scene does play out well enough. It is often very difficult to discuss a remake, or a film that has been remade without comparing the two versions. These two films are very similar but also make some very different choices. While the US version handles many aspects of the game itself better, the Thai version has a much stronger focus on the character and has a tighter story. If I were to choose between the two, I think the Thai version is a stronger film, but they’re both worth watching. I also think it works better if you watch the original version first as there are a few moments in the US version that play with your expectations if you’re familiar with this version of the story. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.