Day 122. That means we are now officially at the one-third mark. In just 244 more days, I’ll be able to go to bed early and give my poor laptop a rest. Assuming it hasn’t blown up on me by then, that is. I honestly didn’t think I’d even get this far, so thanks everyone for reading my daily drivel. And now, on with the show.
Embrace the baldness already, Nic.
Joe is a world-class hitman taking his last big score in the Thai capital. The job is four hits for mob boss Surat, but as Joe spends more time in the city, it starts to awaken parts of himself he thought long dead. Can he make it to the end of his contract, or will his new-found purpose completely upend his lonely existence? Predictability ensues.
Back in 1999, the Pang Brothers (Danny and Oxide – more Larry and Andy than Joel and Ethan) came out of the gate firing on all cylinders with their debut feature as writer/directors, Bangkok Dangerous. The flick was based around a deaf-mute assassin named Kong and his mentor Joe, and their girlfriends Fon and Aom. Despite my efforts to the contrary, I haven’t gotten around to watching it yet, though I hear it’s quite good. Cut to 2008, and Nicolas Cage’s production company has bought up the remake rights but, admirably, retained the services of the Pangs for scripting and helming duties on Bangkok Dangerous (take 2).
The major difference in this version, besides making Joe an American, is the shift in focus. The four key characters still exist, but they’ve been jumbled about quite drastically. Joe is now the lead. He still takes on Kong as an apprentice, but Kong is his hired helper first; a local pickpocket that Joe pays to act as an errand boy and gofer between him and his employer. Kong is no longer deaf-mute either. That trait has been passed over to Fon, though she still works in a pharmacy. Also, Joe and Kong have swapped girlfriends, and Aom is now a dancer in Surat’s club, as well as being the gangster’s contact for Joe. She and Kong meet to pass information back and forth from their respective employers, but still manage to fall for each other. All clear? Excellent. As I mentioned, I haven’t seen the original so I can’t tell you how the two versions compare and contrast. Maybe I’ll get the chance for that later this year, but in the meantime I’m only in a position to talk about this film as its own entity.
This movie has taken quite a drubbing from critics since its release, but honestly I kind of enjoyed it. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it good, but it’s not as bad as I had expected. I’ll admit my initial expectations had been clouded by the laughable poster. One major point in the flick’s favour is the location itself. The benefit of Thai filmmakers is that we get to see Bangkok as a real, functioning city instead of the cartoony world full of hookers and ladyboys it is so often depicted as in the West (I’m looking at you, Hangover 2) and it is really something special. Unfortunately the rest of the film doesn’t quite measure up. Despite his personal investment in the film, Cage comes across as almost asleep in a lot of his scenes. The only times there’s ever any kind of expression on his face are the scenes where he’s with Fon. The straggly hair doesn’t help either; it’s just distracting. On the other hand, Thai actor Shahkrit Yamnarm is great as Kong, bringing a real vitality to the part. It’s clear that the Pang brothers wanted to keep Kong as an integral element of the film instead of just a sidekick so he’s the one that gets the most in the way of actual development, going from a street hawker and pickpocket to lackey to apprentice killer and ultimately Joe’s only friend. Chinese actress Charlie Yeung is good too as Fon, Joe’s tentative girlfriend and possible salvation. She has a smile that would light up every room she walks in to. She has quite a decent filmography in her homeland as well, full of Tsui Hark and Jackie Chan collaborations. I’m not sure the extent of her characterisation in the original, but here Aom is reduced to looking pretty and giving Kong a briefcase from time to time. In fairness though, she does look very pretty indeed and she hands over that case like a seasoned professional.
The Pangs’ direction is very stylistic, particularly in the action scenes – lots of swooping cameras and low-angle hero shots – but there a few moments of genuine panache, such as one of Joe’s kills at a traditional floating market: after a frantic boat/motorcycle chase and a nasty propeller incident, the shot cuts to in the water looking up at the boat as Joe’s shots come through the hull and the bullets trail through the water, followed by the slowly billowing blood of the victim. That short moment aside though, for an 18-rated movie there really isn’t much blood seen. Unfortunately this means that when things do get messy (like when one of Surat’s henchmen gets a grenade in his pocket) the effect is jarring and feels out of place. A bit of consistency would be better; either leave the blood out altogether or go full-tilt-boogie and paint the town red.
I liked the overwhelmingly fatalistic tone of the film. I found it a refreshing reminder that the only thing Hollywood about this endeavour is the leading man. The Brothers make it clear from minute one that everything is going to turn to shit before long, however the DVD does include a cop-out happy ending if you are that type of person.
Ultimately this film feels pointless. Every story element has been done better in some other film, and the whole enterprise has that whiff of “unnecessary cash-in”. I think Cage’s money would have been better spent on giving the original Bangkok Dangerous a wider release, and throwing a few million the Pangs’ way to craft a new story instead of just another tired re-tread.