4 Kings (2021)
Director, Puthipong Naktong
Language : Thai
Genre : Crime/Drama
Platform : Netflix
Written by : Eswandy
4 Kings’ story centres around the friendship of a group of teenagers who attend a technical school in Thailand during the 90s. There are 4 main gangs in this story and each of these gangs represents different technical schools. The main gang consisting of Billy, Da, and Rupeng, (as well as one other member who doesn’t have much screen time) is from the so called “In” school.
The premise of 4 Kings focuses on the problem of a group of youngsters who have no direction and are considered by the Thai community at that time as trash, low life groups with no future ahead of them. They are a group of friends, who mostly spent their youth enjoying fighting for no reason, and have a dream to change their fate even if the dream is uncertain. 4 Kings is a coming-of-age film that follows the transition of this group of teenagers from their adolescent years until the day they become adults. Interestingly, and somewhat surprising to me is the perception of technical schools by Thai societies at that time which considered the technical school only as a place that gathers problematic students all around Thailand who do not have a place in other so called ‘normal’ schools. Maybe that perception has changed now. The similar kind of situation can also be said to have existed in Malaysia during the 90s, which happened due to the different socio-economic demands. However, at this point, those who have a background in skills are much needed and highly regarded. The demand from the industries is high nowadays compared to the 90s. Since this film is rumoured to be inspired by real events, I found that the issue on technical schools in Thailand is more chronic compared to Malaysia. It also reminds me of the issue of social problems among teenagers in the Indonesia’s film, Dilan 1990 (2018) where apart from the love story between the leads, the issue of school fights and motorcycle gang activities in Bandung became a subplot in Dilan 1990.
The use of props and music in 4 Kings is actually important to create the 90s setting in Thailand. For props and costumes, I think it has been done quite well. The majority of characters wear straight cut ripped jeans, sunglasses of various shapes, long hair, and Chuck Taylor shoes. A style that was quite popular that time, across races, cultures, religions and countries, a staple during the 90s. To be honest, looking at all the characters’ style in this film reminds me of the popular rock band in Malaysia, XPDC, who were very popular during the 90s. Not to mention the type of music used in this film gave almost the same vibe with the music played by XPDC. The rock concert scene in the film is also very important to me. It usually works as a benchmark for a certain pop culture or subculture that represents a certain period of time in human history. In the film, Ada Apa Dengan Cinta (2002) there is a scene like this to represent popular culture amongst youngsters in Indonesia during the millennium era, in Crows Zero (2007) there is also a scene like this. And don’t forget the Van Halen concert reference in the film, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982).
Putting behind the pop culture references of teenagers in the 90’s who lived in the pre-internet era and free from the smartphones, social media and the Internet, the storyline of 4 Kings is actually straight forward even though it is arranged in a non-linear fashion which is sometimes a bit confusing. The transition between present and the past is sometimes a bit abrupt and hard to differentiate. Some audiences find it quite hard to catch. Without comparing it with films like Crows Zero (2007) or Young and Dangerous(1996), 4 Kings gives more focus on the story, morale, and life lessons, rather than action scenes unlike the other two. For those who prefer and expect a film that is packed with action, 4 Kings might not be a film that you can enjoy. There is a scene in the lockup where the dialogue revolves around the issue of teenage problems and although it was only shown in a scene which lasted only a few minutes, it managed to leave a big impression on me. However, the duration of this film is too long (139 minutes) with too many scenes that are repetitive and draggy which I believe can be removed without spoiling the progress of the story.
Fun fact, Billy, the protagonist in 4 Kings, is a member of the popular rock band in Thailand, Taitosmith. They sang the theme song for this film in collaboration with D Gerrard, who also played as the antagonist in 4 Kings. Oh yes, I think they look a little too old to play their role as schoolboy characters, or maybe the definition of masculine image in Thailand at that time was different!
*This article is written based on the reflection of the writer’s own personal view and expression towards the subject matter.