Oat (Ingkarat Damrongsakkul) and Ek (Thira Chutikul) in How to Win Checkers (Every Time).
By Miranda InganniOat (Ingkarat Damrongsakkul), an 11-year-old living in poverty, idolizes his older brother, Ek (Thira Chutikul), in the coming-of-age morality tale, How to Win at Checkers (Every Time), from director Josh Kim.
Having lost both parents, Oat and Ek have an especially close relationship, which is threatened when Ek must participate in the Thai military conscription lottery. Ek’s boyfriend, Jai (Arthur Navarat), must also take his chances with the lottery. But as Oat will eventually discover, having a wealthy family gives Jai the unfair advantage of bribing his way out of having to serve his country. Wanting to secure his brother’s safety and keep him at the modest home they share with their Aunt (Vatanya Thamdee) where Ek is the primary breadwinner, Oat turns to crime.
After Oat finally outsmarts his big bro at a game of checkers, Ek decides it time to take Oat out. Heading to Café Lovely, where Ek works as an escort, Oat is finally exposed to Ek’s seedier side, including prostitution and a nasty drug habit. Oat learns quickly that this is not the path he wants to take and begins taking whatever measures are necessary to ensure that he will not follow in his brother’s footsteps.
Based on short stories by Rattawut Lapcharoeensap and set in the outskirts of Bangkok, the moral of How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) seems to be that one should do whatever it takes to win, even if it means someone else has to lose.
The sweet relationship between Oat and his brother -- and that between Ek and Jai -- lends the film a familiarity and sweetness in this otherwise grim and gritty feature.