Film Review: ‘6ixtynin9’ (1999)5 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
Director: Pen-ek Ratanaruang
Cast: Lalita Panyopas, Sirisin Siripornsmathikul, Prompop Lee, Surapong Mekpongsathorn, Black Phomtong
Runtime: 111 minutes
Written by Hazel Sim
What’s worse than getting the wrong things delivered to your door? Being entangled with Thai gangsters you want nothing to do with while already scraping by in a financial crisis. 6ixtynin9 (also known as Ruang Talok 69), Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s sophomore feature film is a dark crime comedy that follows Tum, played by Lalita Panyopas, a popular star of Thai soap operas.
Tum is a recently retrenched Bangkok bank secretary contemplating taking her life as she runs out of money. The following morning, her luck takes a strange turn when she finds a MAMA instant noodle box filled to the brim with cash in front of her door. It has been left because the sign on her apartment door, 6, is missing a nail and flips upside down, giving the impression that she lives in apartment 9, which is the room further down the hall. While the owner of the cash box searches for her, a string of unfortunate coincidences continues. The filmmaker renders her circumstances humorously and with cruel irony. One could compare it to the Coen Brothers’ dark humour in Blood Simple (1984) and Fargo (1996).
Tum is a personable character that blends seamlessly into the gangster life. The fact that the criminals are clueless about what is happening adds to the movie’s enjoyment since it allows us, the audience, to enjoy watching them draw one incorrect conclusion after another. The film moved along quite well as a moderately bloody quasi-action picture and had a funny “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” vibe the entire time. While taking many turns, the plot did not end up too convoluted or disjointed. Above all, 6ixtynin9 is still a comedy with loads of easy gags largely about violence and themes like the customary Thai retaliation for male adultery, which involves cutting off the man’s penis and throwing it into the mixer.
Sound is used by Ratanaruang to great effect. In other moments, the only background noise is a bird tweeting or the heavy breathing of an obscene caller before a full orchestra suddenly takes over, creating a gritty, raw and jarring film. The movie makes excellent use of caning, lattice, sheer curtains, and mirrors to add a tonne of visual texture.
Its 1999 release date puts it squarely in the middle of the Tarantino tsunami that swept over most of Asia and the rest of the world following Pulp Fiction (1994), and as a result, a similar mood starts to permeate it quite early. Ratanaruang depicted Thailand’s financial crisis, the horror of greed and money madness, the underworld, the implications of capitalism paired with the muted colour scheme, and Tum’s fascinating preoccupation with Princess Diana’s passing. Finally, Ratanaruang advanced the moral tenet that illicit wealth must perish on its own.
The film was incredibly fun, a dynamic fusion of black humour and neo-noir. However, there were several flaws. I’m unsure if I should describe Panyopas’ performance as “restrained.” Despite being a Thai soap opera star, she shows little emotion throughout the movie. Thus the one scene where she sobs is a refreshing change. However, we don’t feel any sympathy for her persona. Has her moral character suddenly deteriorated, or has it always been there? An early scene shows her being somewhat uncomfortable about shoplifting, yet we don’t know what all of this means to her.
Nevertheless, I can appreciate the attempt to keep a character enigmatic as well as a deadpan performance in the context of this tragedy-comedy spectrum. You would like this film if you liked anything like True Romance (1993), Shallow Grave (1994) and Pulp Fiction (1994). More so, if you have never watched a Thai film, this is a great one to start with this funny story about 6 and 9.
Altogether this was a comical tragedy with an abundance of dead bodies directed by the visionary filmmaker of Last Life in the Universe (2003) and Headshot (2011), who has a knack for fusing subtle elements of the light crime with flawless styling and ethereal moods.
The film was screened as part of RECIPROCAL 2022, Asian Film Archive (AFA)’s annual collaborative film programme that spotlights the archival collections of AFA and a partnering archive. This year’s inaugural edition, which ran from 1 July to 7 August, saw the AFA and the Thai Film Archive (Public Organization) (TFA) each present a selection of women-oriented stories and works from their collections that interrogate the female representation in film.
This review is published as part of *SCAPE’s Film Critics Lab: A Writing Mentorship Programme.
About the author
Hazel is a lover of cinema, music and culture. She is particularly fond of Asian narratives that go untold and the slow burn in films, much like the Kacey Musgraves song.