I guess the Pang Brothers settled on calling the remake of their own Bangkok Dangerous Bangkok Dangerous (what an inspiration!) because more truthful titles like Bangkok Boring, Bangkok Tedious and Bangkok Moronic didn’t have immediate audience appeal. If those titles sound too harsh, I’d be willing to settle on Bangkok Tepid. After August’s deluge of drivel, I’m too tired to argue the point. This one may have oozed on over into September, but it’s every bit as bad as the previous month’s studio-floor sweepings.
Bangkok Dangerous’ biggest sin is that it’s just damned dull. Even the sight of Nicolas Cage sporting some sort of matted animal pelt as hair offers insufficient amusement to liven up this moribund mélange. Oh sure, lots of things happen, but they’re only surprising in their complete lack of surprise. You, too, could have written this movie—and chances are you will do so in your head if you insist on subjecting yourself to it. (And I really do advise against it.)
Try this simple test. Hit man Joe (Nicolas Cage) goes to Bangkok for “one last job” before retiring from the business of murder for money. Is this a good idea? In Bangkok, Joe recruits shifty-but-good-hearted street hustler Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm) as his errand boy/patsy. Will the lad’s good-hearted naïveté have thawed Joe’s cold assassin’s heart by the time it comes for Joe to dispose of the young man? When Joe meets knockout deaf-mute pharmacist Fon (Hong Kong pop singer Charlie Yeung) will an ensuing romance cause him to want a chance at redemption, a new life and maybe a better hairstyle? Will the final target on the list of four victims turn into a moral dilemma for Joe? If you came up with one no and three yes’s, congratulations—a career writing lousy hit-man-with-a-heart-of-gold action movies could be yours.
This kind of rock-‘em-sock-‘em dim-witted action flick would be marginally OK if it didn’t take itself so seriously. Unfortunately, the Pang Brothers appear to take Bangkok Dangerous very seriously indeed. I mean they truly seem to believe that they’ve cooked up a weighty moral drama about sin and redemption. Taking that attitude has mostly served to make a dumb thriller picture into a crashing bore, with undercooked action, grainy—often underexposed—photography and an unintentionally funny sub-Raymond Chandler narration from Cage (who assures us, at one point, that Bangkok is “corrupt, dirty and dense”—or perhaps he’s describing his character).
Bangkok Dangerous is the kind of movie where the highlight is seeing someone’s hand lopped off with an outboard motor. OK, so the scene that contains this is a lame knockoff of a chase in Prachya Pinkaew’s The Protector (2005). But at least something is actually happening other than hit-man Joe going all hot, soft and woolly over his newfound friends and being humanized via a “comical” encounter with spicy Thai food. The whole severed-hand scene serves as a lesson to not underestimate the value of a little arterial spray.
All my reservations and warnings to one side, I’ll admit that Bangkok Dangerous fulfills its function as an example of the relativity of things. Last week, I spoke derisively of the shortcomings of Babylon A.D.. This week—after trudging through Bangkok Dangerous—I am starting to realize what a fine piece of filmmaking Babylon A.D. actually is. But this, of course, is on a wholly comparative basis. Rated R for violence, language and some sexuality.