By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Pang brothers turned in a credible grimy thriller with 1999’s original “Bangkok Dangerous.” Eight years later, only the brothers and the city remain the same. Western screenwriter Jason Richman took the Pangs’ original and pumped up the volume, the budget and the violence, losing most of the pathos in the stampede.
The 1999 film, shot mostly in Thailand’s capitol, followed a deaf and mute gunman, Kong (Pawalit Mongkolpisit), as he scoured the streets with his gun and his assignments, a dirty sweaty man with a dirty sweaty job who collected dirty sweaty money and reposed, between pulls of the trigger, in a dirty sweaty one-and-a-half-room abode shared with Jo (Pisek Intrakanchit).
Jo and a stripper Aom (Patharawarin Timkul) met Kong at a shooting range one day, befriended him and invited him to pop off a few rounds. Nobody had bothered to try and communicate with the young deaf fellow before. Kong found, in one of the Pangs’ overdone but crudely touching moments, that he could shoot quite well visualizing his childhood tormentors at the heart of the target.
Now the death assignments come from couriers, through Aom. Jo looks after Kong and slings a second gun when one’s needed. Kong satisfies himself with the money and harbors no vision past the next assignment. But then he meets an adorable young pharmacist, willing to meet him halfway as they struggled to communicate, and everything changes.
The new “Bangkok Dangerous” follows predictable hit man epic lines. Nicholas Cage, playing the assassin, now known as “Joe,” can’t, of course, be a deaf-mute. That would alienate Western audiences expecting to hear him speak. If you’ve watched enough movies you’ve probably seen Joe before. He’s an expert. He can’t be touched. He talks to himself (and the audience by extension), spieling Hitman 101. Always plan. Leave no traces. Get out when you begin to think about getting out.
Joe flies into Bangkok. Here, he’ll do four assassinations in one fell swoop, producing, if all goes as planned, enough fat wire transfers into his (probably Swiss) bank account to leave him void of any future responsibility bigger than the size of his flavored rum at Club Med.
Joe also needs a gofer/sidekick. Enter a character called “Kong” (Shahkrit Yamnarm), a young pick pocketing fellow with a wide smile, who’ll do anything for a fat roll of bills. A stripper named “Aom” (Panward Hemmanee) dances, as in the 1999 version, at a strip club when not passing along Joe’s assignments. But she gets a much more upscale club this time. The Pangs have money to burn on production and don’t want you to forget it.
And now, the deaf-mute character turns out to be the adorable young pharmacist, Fon (Charlie Young). So we can still get cute scenes of language barrier breakdown, just with the roles reversed from the first film.
OK, so she can’t speak any English and she’s deaf Joe can’t speak any Thai and can hear. What do they do? Apparently opening and shutting your hands by your eyes means “morning” two hands folded over your closed eyes means “night.”
Alas, we also get a scene where Joe blows away several attackers while his ladylove walks blissfully without comprehension just a few steps ahead. She ends up with only one trickle of blood on one shoulder. The Pangs had me giving them points for effort on the first film, but they can’t get me to swallow that particular trickle.
Oh, and Joe has to either blow away or not blow away a very important person, in a sequence screamingly derivative of the day John Kennedy died in Dallas. Do, or don’t. Thereby hangs his fate. Guess what? He gets to do both. ♦
“Bangkok Dangerous” plays in various theatres throughout the Seattle area. Consult local listings for prices and showtimes.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.