By Tyler Gilliam and Jordan Collier
Tyler GilliamIt seems the cinematic world has been charged with an influx of filmmaking brothers. The Wachowski brothers dominated the silver screen during the turn of the century with their groundbreaking Matrix Trilogy. The Coen brothers have been making movies and pulling in awards since Fargo in 1996. They dominated last year’s Academy Awards, raking in three Oscars for No Country For Old Men.
Last weekend’s top box-office draw came from the Pang brothers. Danny and Oxide Pang, or PO2, as I like to call them, aren’t new to the movie business. Their hit The Eye was remade earlier this year for the U.S., starring Jessica Alba.
The latest film from the brothers Pang is an Americanized remake of their 1999 debut of the same title. Bangkok Dangerous follows Joe London, an international hit man, played by Nicholas Cage (National Treasure, Ghost Rider).
Joe is the best at what he does. He’s a ghost. The film, albeit through narration, does a good job of describing what it’s like to be in the hit man’s shoes. He’s not completely callous, but he is shut off from the rest of the world and has had to learn to adjust to that kind of lifestyle.
Joe lives by four simple rules; to paraphrase: don’t ask questions, don’t take interest in people outside the job, don’t leave any loose ends, and if you’re thinking about leaving, it’s time to get out. The movie begins as Joe is knowingly on his way to his last job, this time in Bangkok. It’s there that he systematically breaks every one of his rules.
First, he takes on a student. Kong, played by Shahkrit Yamnarm, reminds Joe of himself. So, rather than treat him as expendable, as is his custom, he trains the young man to be a killer.
Then Joe takes interest in an attractive young pharmacist named Fon, played by Charlie Yeung, who happens to be deaf. This is in contrast to the original version where Cage’s character was deaf. The original story pinned his unflinching ability to kill on his disability. As much sense as that made, it wouldn’t make sense to hire an actor like Nicholas Cage and not give him any lines. So they lost that particular character trait, but they kept the dynamic of the relationship between the characters. It’s an interesting trade.
Cage’s one-dimensional acting is definitely an acquired taste, but I enjoyed him in this film. Yamnarm (Kong) stole the show. His character was not only likeable, but had depth. He grew from a petty thief to a professional killer. I know that doesn’t exactly sound warm and fuzzy, but you have to put it in the context of the film.
I’m not going to pretend I watched the original Bangkok Dangerous. I read about it. I don’t regularly make a habit of watching subtitled foreign films, but I’d really like to see it. The remake was good. It’s not for everyone, and it’s definitely not a feel-good movie. But I liked it.
Bangkok Dangerous is dangerously stupid.
It’s dangerous for the Pang brothers, who butchered the remake of their own award-winning film (more on that in a moment).
It’s dangerous for Nicolas Cage, whose career has recently been plagued by nothing but commercial and critical flops (aside from the National Treasure films and the mediocre Ghost Rider adaptation).
And it’s dangerous for the unsuspecting audience, who are lured into expecting one kind of film and being force-fed another.
I myself wasn’t even aware that Bangkok Dangerous was a remake, much less a remake of a film that won the International Critics’ Award at the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival.
Normally when a remake of a foreign film is butchered, people like to point fingers at the director, clucking that the poor soul failed to appreciate the original source, but this clearly can’t be the case with the Pang brothers; they directed both versions.
The original film is supposed to be a stylishly edited Thai crime film about a deaf hit man. While that may sound pretty cool, instead the remake we’re treated to is the story of a stoic hit man named Joe (no, he’s not deaf) who breaks his own rules about developing emotional interests in people.
The deaf angle actually shows up in the love interest in the remake, and was one of the movie’s few interesting ideas, owing largely to the fact that Joe isn’t fluent in sign language.
However, like all other things in this movie, it eventually fails in the execution.
Many of the scenes the two share drag on for far too long, and some of them don’t do a whole lot to advance the story.
One is a dating montage that lasted close to 10 minutes. There is very little dialogue during the scene and it doesn’t show us much we didn’t already know.
One thing to make as clear as possible: this movie is not the no-brains summer popcorn movie the trailers and TV spots might lead you to believe.
While it is brainless, the meandering pace and failed attempts at human drama keep it from achieving the latter status.
Yes, a film can have both, but Bangkok Dangerous fails miserably in both areas. On the dramatic side, the audience doesn’t get enough information to develop any real connections to the characters.
Basically all the audience knows about them is that Joe is a hit man who is finally connecting with people and his love interest is a deaf pharmacist that lives with her mother.
The film’s big action scenes just aren’t all that exciting because they’ve pretty much all been done somewhere else better.
They aren’t even visually exciting, as the shots range from confusing to bland. Don’t get mixed up and think I mean the camera is in a chaotic state like the Bourne movies; I mean pretty much everything is filmed in the most dull way possible.
Over-the-top wire-fu bullet ballet and straight up ’80s action goodness are replaced with several close-up shots of Nic Cage firing randomly at some unseen target, with someone occasionally falling out of a window or a tame (by today’s standards) explosion.
A scene where the Joe character is teaching another character self-defense literally looks like a game of patty cake. The choreography looks rather slow and repetitive and the static camera is just too close for us to see if anything else is going on.
The fact that the two are pretty much standing in place through the whole scene doesn’t help matters either. Oddly enough, some of the shots of the city itself and even a couple of the more quiet scenes (which far outnumber the action scenes – don’t be fooled) are visually striking, with a really filthy look that compels you to stop and take notice.
How a couple of accomplished filmmakers could defecate so much on their own award-winning work is beyond me, but that really doesn’t matter.
All that does matter is that Bangkok Dangerous is horrible, and you should avoid it at all costs. I say this as someone who loves to turn his brain off and watch things get blown up, and someone that can appreciate the subtlety of so-called “more refined” cinema.
Do yourself a favor and go rent something more worth your while, perhaps the original if you can find it.