“Bangkok Dangerous” is so brazen a cliché that, as with the scalawag student who owns up to a transgression—“It was I, Mrs. Green, who stole the UNICEF collection can”—you must at least note the honesty. Ripping off their 1999 Thai version by the same name, twin brother-directors Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang keep it simple, and cheap.
At least that’s the way it looks…no offense to the producers if it cost more than the Hollywood equivalent of $1.98 to make. And that’s the lower rung cachet this tale about an American hitman (Nicolas Cage) in Bangkok seeks to cash in on, shamelessly. Even when its plot evolves into perfunctory moralisms, it knows not to be too convincing.
In the same vein that auto insurers forgive good clients one accident, we don’t question Nicolas Cage’s otherwise curious presence here. Winking to Nick knowingly, we sit back and admire how surprisingly little he harms his reputation as this stereotypical assassin. Just call him Joe. Narrating, he opens things up with his four commandments of killing.
They are, don’t get close to anyone, don’t ask questions, know when to get out and don’t fall asleep with bubblegum in your mouth. Just kidding about that last one. No, no, I’ll tell you. It’s don’t leave any traces. I couldn’t have it on my conscience if you saw the film just to learn that.
Anyway, we know what happens to rules, especially if one is trying to apply them at a pivotal time in their life. Sure, cold-blooded murderer Joe is only exercising good business sense in hiring Bangkok pickpocket Kong, obsequiously portrayed by Shakrit Yamnarm. He needs a local conduit. But you think maybe he kind of likes the kid?
Well, shucks if life isn’t just one big ambiguity. It turns out the paid killer, after conducting an entire career of anonymity and detachment, suddenly needs to leave a legacy…to tutor a prodigy. Kong gets the nod because, in a novel twist on the genre, he reminds the veteran of himself. Huh…Cage was Thai when he was younger?
No matter. But be aware that epiphanies in the movies are usually multi-pronged in nature, especially if a romantic interest is needed. Having also decided he no longer wishes to live in a world without love, Joe takes a fancy to antithetical pharmacist Fon, played by Charlie Yeung. Dig the symbolism. Not only is she innocent, she’s mute.
Yep, once you start breaking those maxims, man, it’s like falling off a diet. First it’s just a handful of Fritos from the cupboard, grabbed quickly because then they don’t amount to any calories. Next thing you know, it’s an amuse bouche of Fettuccine Alfredo followed by a quart of General Tso’s chicken. In short, Joe is mixing meat with dairy.
But, because it is so beyond triteness to be pretentious, we again grant “Bangkok Dangerous” dispensation and settle in to glean its few good action sequences. Yet even then, the celluloid quality itself is questionable. And the prevalence of darkness and shadows, whether for atmosphere or to bamboozle, makes it difficult to discern matters.
Wading in such shallow waters, the movie sets up its own Catch 22. Any attempt to legitimize the proceedings might seem an embarrassing stretch. Yet, there’s no denying Mr. Cage’s Joe is a hitman, a torpedo, a cleaner. And a little background into this previously soulless dude might’ve proved interesting.
Likewise as regards the other principals. Sidekick Kong never rises above the savvy, No. 1 street stooge that’s been a politically incorrect staple since Hollywood first opened for business. Indeed, to tell his story properly would be way too much Third World sociology for this film’s purposes. Fon is a variation on an ideal.
Invariably dressed in white, she is virtue. A repository of her culture’s etiquette and grace, pure despite the squalor and gangsterism around her, Fon is seen as Joe’s one chance in a million for redemption. It just wouldn’t do if he simply picked some fat little jovial gal to guide his way out of sin.
Nope, it’s always all or nothing, like Roy “Mad Dog” Earle’s (Humphrey Bogart) tragic obsession with clubfooted wallflower Velma (Joan Leslie) in “High Sierra” (1941). Sure, Roy could have kept it uncomplicated. Ida Lupino’s Marie loved him like crazy. They might of just faded to black…slipped away into some holler and lived happily ever after.
It’s the acting out of that two-sided syndrome, perfection vs. depression. You can’t get it one hundred percent right, so no sense in bothering. Psychiatrists reading this review might corroborate that. And while they’re at it, perhaps explain why any filmgoer in their right mind would want to hazard nine dollars American on “Bangkok Dangerous.”
“Bangkok Dangerous,” rated R, is a Lionsgate release directed by Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang and stars Nicolas Cage, Shakrit Yamnarm and Charlie Yeung. Running time: 99 minutes