The “gangland” era of Thailand. Uncle Lor is a top lieutenant in the triad run organization of protection rackets and collection. Daeng and Jod are his two superstar underlings and legends in their area. Piak and Thong are two young up and comers who idolize Daeng and Jod. These men and more will collide as organized crime in Thailand shifts from knives to guns and from rock and roll to the real world.
Komkiat Khomsiri directs this surprisingly action-packed chronicle of men who’ve become legends in a time where violence guaranteed dominance and death was only a bullet or knife-edge away. Chock full of brawls and scenes of brutality, The Gangster takes a decidedly visceral approach to telling the story of battling gangs and warring factions. Very different from the almost meditative and character driven Mafia films of the West, Khomsiri directs a tightly driven action film with some surprisingly effective acting.
With a large group of characters, it may be difficult to find focus with all the backstabbing and changing loyalties. Krisada Sukosol Clapp turns in probably the best performance here as Jod: he’s loyal, tough, and his early comment of gangsters being a family more than just thugs resonates throughout the picture. He’s a decent guy that isn’t afraid to use violence to protect what’s his and those he loves. Showing a conflicted side as well, he does feel haunted by his life but is far too invested to make any real changes. It’s a strong performance that certainly stands out among the rest of the cast.
The look of the film is very good, being set against the rock and roll era of Elvis and rebellious time of James Dean. Pompadours and glasses rule the looks and the chosen music is very indicative of the era. Large sets and many outdoor scenes lend scale to the film and it is easy to feel that these characters are real people. Stylistically the film is gritty, dark, and brutal. There’s no escaping the darkness of this world and the look of the film suits its themes. Muted colors and earthy browns fill the screen and when bright splashes of red blood appear, it creates an impact.
There is use of talking head segments which feature elderly individuals giving testimonial accounts about the time and, in some cases, personal experience. This is a bit of a negative to me since it is never used consistently and there are long gaps without it which make it a little jarring when they pop up again. It seemed necessary for the heavily set up first act but they seemed much less important once you get to know all the players.
The Gangster is a solid action crime drama that features great bloody action and setpieces. It tells a competent story about the underworld in Thailand but is bogged down by some poor production choices and too many characters. It is a pretty entertaining film that shows a side of Thai history that is widely unknown in the Western world and it definitely shows an increase in technical precision from the dumb action spectacles that typically get produced from Baa-Ram-Ewe.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Nikkatsu yakuza films, Friend, and Jiang Hu
Special Thanks to Magnet Releasing for providing a viewing copy!