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Berlinale 2015: The Big Wheel Keeps on Turning

Berlinale 2015: The Big Wheel Keeps on Turning


Film is one of the most efficient ways to draw attention to political and cultural issues in today’s global society. It has the power to bring us closer to the realities that we know nothing about. How to Win at Checkers (Every Time), Josh Kim’s debut feature, is one of those films. Set in contemporary Thailand, on the outskirts of Bangkok, it tells a coming-of-age story of two brothers, struggling to survive. Their story is cleverly intertwined with important pieces of information about the current Thai political situation. The ugly truth leaks out of TV and radio news and gives the film a strong context and a sense of documentary realism.

The story revolves around Thailand’s draft military lottery, which is not a new topic in Kim’s films. His recent documentary short DRAFT DAY already explored it from the perspective of transsexuals. All males turning 21 must participate in the draft. If you are lucky, you draw a black card. Drawing a red card means two years of service. Political crisis and instability of the country can lead to serious consequences for all that are called to arms. The fact that those who are most capable of work will be away for two years, can have a negative impact on their families as well. The struggle for survival becomes even harder. The draft lottery thus becomes a metaphor for the world and the society in which the two brothers live. The jaw of the global capitalist system eats you up, uses you and spits you out on the margin of existence.

checkers draft

How to Win at Checkers shows us a glimpse into life in a country that we do not know much about. We do not perceive Thailand as much as a country with many problems and hard realities of everyday life, but more as a tourist destination with hot weather, blue skies, sandy beaches and beautiful historical attractions. Which is an odd way of thinking, because in reality we all have the same struggles: poverty, social injustices, class differences, political crisis, lack of democracy and opportunities for more decent life. We are all in the same boat and films like Kim’s can – in a way – deepen our moral sensibility and bring the distant cultures closer to our own. But, can they also make us rethink and change something, or will the big wheel just keep on turning?

Ana Šturm // Written for Berlinale Talent Press 2015 // Berlinale 2015