Last week on April 25, the Asian Students Association hosted a screening of the film “How to Win at Checkers (Every Time).” The 2015 film by Korean American director Josh Kim is based on Thai American writer Rattawut Lapcharoensap’s acclaimed 2004 short story collection “Sightseeing,” a story about growing up in Thailand as told through the lens of a lower class boy (Oat) observing his older brother (Ek) go through the military draft and work to support the family.
Also central to the storyline is the use of sexuality and socioeconomic class in the relationships portrayed in the film. Ek is gay, and his boyfriend (Jai) is of an upper class. Jai’s family bribes the leader of the black market to escape the draft. Oat and Ek cannot afford that luxury. Instead, we watch Ek try to live life by the rules, working at a gay bar to support his family, trying to raise Oat with good morals, putting class differences aside to be with Jai. But Ek still does not escape the draft. Oat becomes hardened by the harsh realities and decisions he should make to get what he wants. By the time Oat is of age to enter the draft, Oat learns that no one lives by the rules. And to “win at checkers (every time),” you have to play dirty.
I thoroughly enjoyed this film. I think it accurately portrayed Thailand and did not exoticize or romanticise At the end of the film, we shared our thoughts with each other. My roommate is from Thailand, so she felt a direct connection to the film. She feels that stories about Thailand like these put her in a representative position for Thailand, yet she recognizes her privilege of being able to come to Bryn Mawr while other Thai people are less fortunate and are in villages. One student brought up how sexuality was present, but not the main thing about the film. Another student noted how Thailand was portrayed as being generally quite liberal towards LGBTQ. The ending of the film is not quite so clear, so the audience is left to imagine what happens to Oat in the future.
Not a lot of people showed up to the screening (probably because it was the last week of classes), but I think ASA will be screening it again next semester.