HIFF review: ‘How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)’

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Friday, Nov. 13, 6 p.m., Dole

Friday, Nov. 20, 8:30 p.m., Hilo Palace Theater

Saturday, Nov. 21, 6 p.m., Dole

After watching the trailer for “How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)” on the HIFF website, I expected a very different movie from the one I watched. I went in to the film thinking that it would be about the relationship between Jai and Eck, two gay men in Thailand facing the possibility of being drafted into the military. But to my surprise, the key relationship was not between them, but between Eck and his younger brother Oat. Oat looks up to his older brother and is terrified with the prospect of him leaving their poor family for the military. Eck has his own worries, as he’s been the man of the house since the death of their parents. Who will provide for his younger brother and sister if he’s forced to enter the military and can’t work?

checkers1I loved the family dynamic between Eck and Oat. It felt genuine and there was nothing unbelievable about the desperate actions taken by both as they face Eck’s possible enlistment. That is a huge credit to the writer and director Josh Kim, a product of HIFF’s Creative Lab Writers Accelerator. His story is simple, yet well told, with convincing performances enhancing a realistic plot. While Eck’s openly gay relationship features prominently in the story, it is more of a side note when compared to the film’s illustration of social class differences and corruption. As is the story everywhere, there is a huge difference between the haves and have nots.

“How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)” is Thailand’s entry in Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film category and is a solid feature length debut for Kim, well worth a look.