I went into ‘How To Win At Checkers (every Time’ blind. The only thing I knew about it is that it is a film from Thailand and it has gay content. The film revolves around Oat (Ingkarat Damrongsakkul) who, with his brother, live with their aunt after their father died. In Thailand, when a young man turns 21, they get summoned, and in a ceremony called the lottery, is determined whether they are ‘chosen’ to serve the country. the lottery is determined by pulling a peace of paper from a big jar – black means you are staying, and red means you are being drafted. But of course, there are ways around it, if you are from a rich family, for example, and you can scrape up money for a bribe then yoru son can be exempted from it. When Oat sees this, he tries to steal money so he can safe his brother. This plan backfires on him, and sends his brother to an even perilous journey.
This is a great coming-of-age film. It shows how in Thai culture, homosexuality can be a big deal, but at the same time it is not. When a twenty-one year old trans woman is lined up in the lottery, she is just asked if she has already had her sex change operation, and is instantly exempted from draft. Ad while the story can be by-the-numbers, you never feel jaded by it – there’s a freshness in the performances, and the pacing is slow but never boring. The performances are wonderful, and maybe it helped that I did not know any of these actors, and are just characters in the film. And it gives you a wonderful glimpse of a different culture.