Drama, Films, Historical / Period, Recommended posts, Reviews, Thailand

The Last Executioner

3.5 stars

เพชฌฆาต, Petchakhat. Thailand 2014. Directed by Tom Waller. Starring Vithaya Pansringarm, Penpak Sirikul, David Asavanond, Thanyarat Praditthaen, Suchada Rojmanothum. 95 mins. In Thai with English subtitles.

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Tom Waller accomplishes a hauntingly interesting biopic drama about the last firing squad executioner at Bangkok’s most notorious prison…

What is there to say about The Last Executioner that isn’t summed up in its title? Directed by thai-born Tom Waller, this is his third feature after previous successes in 1997’s Monk Dawson and 2010’s Mindfulness and Murder (Which played at the Far East Film Festival in 2011), and Waller has now returned to the 17th edition of the FEFF in 2015 with this harrowingly emotional tale about Chavoret Jaruboon (Vithaya Pansringarm), otherwise known as the last man to carry out prisoner executions with a rifle in Thailand (due to switching to lethal injections in 2003) at the notorious Bangkok prison Bang Kwan Central.

A government-officiated ceremony is held to commemorate the crossing over in the country from shooting to lethal injection for the execution of the death penalty. Long lasting executioner Chavoret Jarubon is there, but instead his mind echoes back to the freeness of his youth. He met his wife Tew (Suchada Rojmanothum) when playing in a pop group during the late 60’s; where they eventually hooked up, settled down as a family and Chavoret realised he needed a real job. Thus enters the real focus of The Last Executioner.

The prison of Bank Kwan Central is an integral character itself, with deep levels of distraught and overflowing emotion. The prison rules Chavoret’s life, haunting his dreams and waking moments as the echoing pursues him of co-workers faces seemingly laughing at his ease of killing. We know this is far from the truth, as he is plagued by nightmares and the frequent horror he may have killed an innocent man (or woman). When this is combined with the national media questioning his ability to judge the prisoners, alongside being stalked back to his house, it creates a very tense second act of the film where frequent time-skips jump through his career at the prison, dancing from one significantly nail-biting event to another.

After being promoted to the position of Executioner after a prison riot in 1984, the film dissolves into a pitched fit of emotionally tense scenes and frivolous reminiscing ‘visions’ of spirits acting as Chavoret’s guide and conscience, forcing him to accept that the ‘murdering’ is not only part of his job but also his patriotic duty, a duty which he not once decries throughout the film or ever shows remorse for. Whilst Waller talked about wanting to create something different from regular Thai films at the FEFF 17 premiere of the film, the time-worn trick of using spirits throughout a film as jump scares or exposition dumps doesn’t seem out of place, as they slot in meticulously within the narrative helping to position further as the ‘ghosts’ of Chavoret’s very haunted soul.

The tone of the film constantly leaps between jet-black serious and whimsically silly. The slaughtering is violent without stepping over the line of becoming overtly graphic, however several scenes in the execution chamber left me gripping the seat and notably disturbed due to their tenseness and overwhelming emotional effect. The editing pace consists of swift, chopping movement which gracefully dances through the scenes and brightly lights the action with vivid colours across the screen, such violently graphic death never looked so beautifully shot. The constant question of faith and karma is always referred to, indeed Chavoret’s belief is a core element of the film alongside the very essence of the prison. His belief in ‘doing his duty’ and upholding strong family values (and strong sacrifices for the safety of his family) helps hold together a narrative that, whilst not overtly terrible, could have been scripted better or used some more pacing.

My only qualms with The Last Executioner is that most of the film feels like a sexual assault by JJ Abrams. Nary a scene passes without some blinding lens flare from the sunny Thai vistas, and in some places making the scenes unviewable or confusing to relate what’s on screen. The ending feels disjointed and unconnected with the rest of the film, with the ‘last moments’ overstepping their welcome and lingering forever. Some much needed reediting could be applied to the pacing throughout, poignant execution scenes need some much loved breathing room, whilst the last shots could be trimmed down from lasting up to 20 minutes. Overall The Last Executioner is a very nice drama that creates a lot of emotional effect and has a strong sense of storytelling and ‘self’. There are parts that could do with changing; but from a base idea that could have instead deviated in the hands of a lesser director into a boring, turgid miasma of dullness, Tom Waller’s feature The Last Executioner is actually a very lovely film.

The Last Executioner screened at the 2015 Udine Far East Film Festival. The festival ran from 23 April to 2 May 2015.

About the author

Andrew Daley
News Editor for easternKicks, and a Video Producer for Cycling Weekly based in London, with a passion for East Asian cinema, photography, and the outdoors. Read reviews/articles »
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