When Gore Verbinski brought The Ring to the US in 2002, I doubt he had the slightest idea that he was about to create one of the most powerful trends in contemporary horror, remakes of Asian Horror.
Those remakes became very popular especially due to The Ring (2002) and The Grudge (2004), which led to a rapid succession of remakes and re-imaginings of Asian films regardless of any quality standards; pretty much every film was susceptible for being remade, to a point where most people would watch them without ever realizing the truth about its origin. Whilst most of those remakes where from J-Horror, a few Korean or even Thai films were "victimized" by a Hollywood thirsty for easy money, with some good results now and then, but with an overall production of atrocities, such as Apartment 1303.
13 Sins, starring Mark Webber and Ron Perlman, is one of the first horror (or thriller, for some people) releases of 2014 to caught the attention of the general public, with a premise that has been explored recently in other titles such as the mediocre Would You Rather (2013) and the outstanding indie Cheap Thrills (2013); the film follows the story of a man whose life was on the verge of complete ruin when a mysterious phone call promises to change his life forever, if he agrees to play a seriously disturbed game.
What most people don't know, neither did I when I saw 13 Sins, is that the film was in fact one of those "underground" remakes of films no one ever heard about, in this particular case a Thai film from 2006 known by many names... 13 Beloved or 13 Game of Death or even 13 game sayawng which seems to be a mix of both names, since sayang means beloved, if my Thai can be trusted...
The films are quite similar as a whole; a mysterious organization contacts a young man with a troubled financial and personal life and offers him a chance to become a millionaire if, and only if he fulfills thirteen challenges to be defined according to the pace of the game. Technically, they are both good, the acting is decent, everything is fine.
To avoid confusion, for now on I'll only refer to them as '13 American' and '13 Thai', according to its respective country. I won't describe all the challenges because that would ruin one of the best parts of both, the thrill to know what comes next.
'13 Thai' starts with Pusit, an average Thai man suffering with countless bills to pay and working on a relentless market where only the strong can endure. Trying to conquer the girl of his dreams, everything seems to be going bad when suddenly his cell phone rings. By the same time token, '13 American' also introduces the viewer to an average American man (Elliot), with financial and work problems; as if that wasn't enough though, he's married to a pregnant wife; and he also has a mentally challenged brother whose medical expenses Elliot is covering. On top of this, Elliot also has to pay for his elderly father's bills since the old man is moving to his place... Did I mentioned that his father is a racist and Elliot's wife is black?
In '13 Thai', his problems are enough to justify his interest in the game but at the same time question if any of his acts were justified. In '13 American' they made sure that his life was hopeless and, to kill two birds with one stone, added a lot of controversial elements to the film, as if the very idea of making a game like that wasn't controversial enough.
When the game starts, with the first and second challenge being the same for both films, '13 Thai' and '13 American' follow a very similar path, showing an average man being corrupted by money, doing all sorts of atrocities that includes public humiliation, vandalism and different levels of physical and psychological abuse. It is definitely the best part of both films, the expectation to see what comes next and how terrible the next challenge will be. '13 American' went for a gory trajectory, with some gruesome sequences and fantastic makeup effects, while '13 Thai' is more disgusting than brutal; nonetheless, they are both equally unsettling when they want to be.
Although both films follow a very similar path when it comes about the behavior of the main character in face of the abusive challenges, there's another distinctive point between the two films related to the people coordinating the challenge. In '13 Thai', the challenges are proposed by a mysterious organization that profits by broadcasting the game online, and they keep track of Pusit through street cameras and other relatively viable ways. In the other hand, '13 American' completely loses the common sense, creating a game that seems to be almost supernatural, so absurd is the power of coercion and control they have upon the challenges; To give a proof of how nonsensical it can be, that there's a subplot with a guy investigating the origin of all that thing, that takes back that game to ancient Rome! When the game stopped to be something slightly plausible, the whole film lost credibility, mas it hold up well until the end.
I won't get into details as I've said before, but it's necessary to talk a little bit, even if in a vague way about the ending of '13 American' to come up with the general impression. As anything could imagine at this point, considering that each challenge escalates in difficult and absurdity, the 13th and final one is supposed to be the most cruel, insane and of course, surprising. '13 Thai' takes that seriously, with a ending that is, as expected, deranged, controversial, absurd. My experience with Asian film in general shows a tendency to close stories according to the moral of the film, not the expectation of the viewer that wants a happy ending, so it's common to have a down beating conclusion. In the other hand, my experience with the world of American remake is that there's always a relief factor and a tendency to over-complicate plots, as if an attempt to make the film look smarter. '13 American' adds so many background facts, subplots, secondary characters and plot twists, that the film becomes a mess, completely all over the place without necessity; it screams all the time "Look! Look how clever and controversial I am!” The result? The film is neither controversial enough nor clever enough, being only frustrating.
'13 Thai' might not be the most fantastic horror film of all time, it's not even the best 'Thai' film recently, but it does have merits and it's definitely an entertaining piece of violence with some thrilling moments, probably good to watch among friends. '13 American' is inferior than the original and being generous can be described as watchable, since it has some unnerving scenes as well, and the idea of such game is always though-provoking; if not by that necessity to look smart, it could have been great fun. I would recommend a double feature with them if you look for a disturbed pastime or inspiration to challenge your friends into doing some crazy stuff.
The conclusion? The original is better, but you can watch them both.