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Short Synopsis

In Thailand, all males turning 21 years old must participate in the annual military draft lottery. Drawing a black card grants exemption, while drawing red results in two years of military service.

On the morning of his draft lottery, Oat reflects back on his childhood -- when as a child, his older brother Ek faced the possibility of being drafted himself. Unable to convince Ek to do whatever he can to change his fate, young Oat takes matters into his own hands, resulting in unexpected circumstances.

Based on the short stories “At the Café Lovely” and “Draft Day” from the U.S. bestselling book Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap, How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) is director Josh Kim's debut feature film.

Short Synopsis

In Thailand, all males turning 21 years old must participate in the annual military draft lottery. Drawing a black card grants exemption, while drawing red results in two years of military service.

On the morning of his draft lottery, Oat reflects back on his childhood -- when as a child, his older brother Ek faced the possibility of being drafted himself. Unable to convince Ek to do whatever he can to change his fate, young Oat takes matters into his own hands, resulting in unexpected circumstances.

Based on the short stories “At the Café Lovely” and “Draft Day” from the U.S. bestselling book Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap, How to Win at Checkers (Every Time) is director Josh Kim's debut feature film.

Director's Statement

I fell in love with the book, which this film is based on, the first time I read it. The language is very cinematic and visual. I could especially relate to the relationship between the brothers – Oat and Ek.

I remember reading that a relationship with a sibling, more so than with a parent, was one of the most important relationships (if not the longest) that a person would have in his or her lifetime.

The brothers in the short story, “At the Café Lovely” by Rattawut Lapcharoensap are Thai. However, even though they grew up in a different country, speaking a different language, their relationship reminded me of the relationship I had with my own brother.

Since acquiring the film rights back in 2008, I worked on two films set in Thailand in order to familiarize myself with shooting in the country and expand my network: “A Better Tomorrow” (2010), which I worked on as Associate Producer that premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2010, and “Draft Day” (2013), a short research documentary of transgenders participating in Thailand’s military draft.

Since the release of the short documentary, the Korean Board of Education has also distributed the film to middle school and high school libraries throughout Korea to help teach students about transgender tolerance. This is why I continue to make films and especially this feature project: to make a positive impact on the world we live in through our work.

- Josh Kim, director

Interview with the Director: Josh Kim

What inspired you to make the film?

In 2007, I read the book, Sightseeing, by Rattawut Lapcharoensap. It felt as if I had just watched a movie. I remembered the vivid sunsets, the sound of motorbikes, the smell of gasoline and all the colors. It was a world I had never seen, yet populated with characters I felt like I knew from my own childhood. It soon became a story I wanted to tell through film.

What challenges did you face in adapting the book? 

When I sent out early drafts of the screenplay for feedback, I found that there were parts where people didn’t understand because they had not read the book. I realized then that I needed to put the original source material away and make sure the film script was able to stand on its own. It became very freeing to move beyond the boundaries of the book. I began to add characters and expand on themes and situations to make it my own.

Can you talk about the process of the military draft lottery in Thailand?

It’s a very unique rite of passage. If you’re a male in Thailand, on the year of your 21st birthday, you gather with guys the same age in your district to pick a card from an urn in front of everybody. If the card is black, your service is waived and you don’t need to go. If it’s red, however, you must commit two years of your life serving your country. Unlike the US, where military service is voluntary, yet unlike other countries such as South Korea, where it is mandatory, military service in Thailand is largely dependent on luck.

Before coming to Thailand, I had never actually seen this process before. And while I was writing, it was still unclear what the rules were regarding MTF transgenders. So in 2013, I made a short documentary, called Draft Day, which followed two transgender women on the day of their own draft. This research helped immensely and provided a strong reference for our team as we had to recreate our own draft for the film.

Describe the casting process. How did you find your actors?

Ryu, the young boy, was actually the first person that came in to read for the role. We tried out one of the emotional scenes and he nailed it. It felt way too easy so we kept looking. Some director friends had told stories of how they auditioned hundreds of kids before finding, “the one.” After we auditioned our own hundred, we eventually came back to him, candidate #1. 

What is the most challenging thing in making this film?

The draft lottery makes this a story which can only be told in Thailand. It was important that the film was a Thai film first before anything else. I wanted to be able to read the Thai script and communicate with the actors, so I moved to Bangkok in 2012 and enrolled in intensive Thai language classes.

During the production, there were massive protests which shut down the capital and eventually the military took over in a coup. Martial law was declared and soon after, a curfew was imposed. We were all worried whether we would even be able to complete the film because our shooting overlapped with the curfew. 

What is the importance of checkers in the movie?

Chess was a game I played with my own brother. He was the one who taught me how to play. Every time I would joke that I would one day beat him, even though I never really believed I would win. So when I did eventually win, I wasn’t sure what to do next because that had been my only goal the whole time. Similarly, when Oat beats his own brother, he begins to see the flaws in him. It’s a bitter-sweet moment where he comes of age and realizes he must start to make decisions on his own.