One thing’s for sure, I am now aware of Vietnam’s Lật Mặt anthology film series, known as “Face Off” in America. Director Lý Hải is responsible for this series, with every entry featuring a different cast and story. From what I’ve gathered, the common link between these films finds a set of characters getting into scenarios that build into more and more outrageous circumstances. Face Off 6: The Ticket of Destiny is receiving the largest release yet for North America, and, fortunately, the concept is pretty fun, even if the journey to reach its finale takes a little longer than necessary. With that in mind, the movie has a sort of daffy spirit that I enjoyed and allowed me to see more Vietnamese culture on screen than I generally have an opportunity for.
The concept is pretty clever, especially knowing that drama will ensue. A group of longtime friends suddenly find themselves in a position to win a huge jackpot that could change their lives for the better. Unfortunately, that news is quickly followed by the sudden death of the friend who was holding onto the ticket. If you think the bulk of this movie will focus on whatever antics are required for the rest of the group to somehow recover this lottery ticket from their dead friend, you would be wrong.
What makes Face Off 6 so wild is how it seems to rocket between so many ideas, setting the stage for numerous increasingly ridiculous situations that begin at graverobbing and lead toward fights, stabbings, car crashes, and more. While the plot can feel like a slight riff on Sam Raimi’s brilliant dramatic thriller, A Simple Plan, the tone falls more in line with what Raimi’s longtime friends, the Coen brothers, would aim for in one of their zanier projects. It’s only a shame that Lý Hải is not nearly the auteur as the filmmakers mentioned.
Of course, I’m not expecting those lofty highs from this film. As it stands, there’s still plenty to admire here. Much of that comes from how the film challenges the audience with these friends. While the notion of these guys gathering together and hoping they win based on a ticket that has assigned all of their birthdays as the winning numbers is good-natured, the film pulls the rug out from this whenever it can. This story has so many twists and turns that you often find yourself second-guessing just how likable this group of guys are.
That could be an issue if the film were to be arguing that you need to always feel for everyone, but I believe Lý Hải is doing what’s necessary to deliver a mix of well-meaning and unlikable characters. It means seeing a range of personalities set within a Vietnamese backdrop, which creates a certain kind of context that could likely be more familiar to those with a closer association with the culture. Regardless, it does speak to universal themes concerning the relationships we hold onto and the others we grow out of.
Quốc Cường portrays Phương, who could be considered the lead of the film. He has a mat business and a daughter to care for but constantly seems under threat of financial ruin. The other characters/types include a gambler, a tough guy, a couple of soon-to-be-fathers, and a deviant. As stated, Phương is the most developed of the group, and as time goes on, one begins to wonder how all of these guys could remain friends when seeing how quickly they can turn on each other. Still, that’s the nature of greed, as seen in countless other films.
I do wish the film was better paced. Coming in at over two hours, with so much melodrama laid on to really emphasize Phương’s issues, it’s a lot to contend with for a film stretched further than needed. However, it does have an energy that allows the film to feel offbeat in the right sort of ways. This feels less about being a difference in international features and more along the lines of deliberate choices being made by the filmmakers to match certain music choices against specific scenes, forcing humorous dialogue into somewhat serious moments, and more.
Combining all of these elements left me feeling as though I got a full meal out of this story, even with some of the missteps taken along the way. The display of Vietnam was certainly refreshing, but the dynamic shared between this group of characters kept me intrigued. Perhaps more importantly, if I’m coming in at this stage in the anthology, I’m certainly curious about what sort of scenarios I’ve missed out on in the previous films. Whatever the case, Face Off 6: The Ticket of Destiny doesn’t quite hit the jackpot, but it left me feeling as though it accomplished just enough.