A film review by Craig J. Koban





2008, R, 99 mins.


Nicolas Cage: Joe / Shahkrit Yamnarm: Kong / Charlie Yeung: Fon  

Written and directed by The Pang Brothers, based on their 1999 film.  

The new hitman-thriller BANGKOK DANGEROUS is unquestionably very fittingly titled: The film is most certainly lethal to audiences, in the respect that horrible and banal writing, excruciatingly stale performances, lackluster shoot-'em up action sequences, and remorsefully murky and dreary cinematography can certainly overpower even the most open minded of film watcher.  

Movies like this make me not want to see more movies.  There are films that are bad, and then there are ones that are so wrongheaded in some many categorically terrible ways that you almost have to admire the sheer scope of their deficiencies.  BANGKOK DANGEROUS more than fits this bill: this movie is stunningly mediocre, but not in those sort of unintentionally hilarious ways that make it a cheaply entertaining awful movie.  Entertainment value is all but subverted here. 

I'm depressed.  No...seriously.  This movie made me sad.  I left the theatre wanting to take a shower because it bathed me in an endless rain of gloominess.  I have seen countless repetitive, disposable, and rudimentary action thrillers that proceeded from one methodically predictable beat to the next; those movies – and there are many – at least provided some outlandish giggles based solely on their preposterousness and shameful disregard to logic.  BANGKOK DANGEROUS is so mercilessly drab and dingy from beginning to end that you kind of want to cleanse the screen with an exfolliant followed by a splash of water.

Consider the film’s drab and depressing plot.  First of all, it’s a beyond needless remake from a passably well regarded 1999 film of the same name by the Pang Brothers.   This new version is actually filmed by the same duol, which begs the question as to why any filmmaker would want to attempt to remake their own material, but I digress.  The ’99 film at least had an interesting angle in its dime-a-dozen storyline:  It was about a deaf hitman dealing with his immoral profession.  At least the film’s premise had intrigue (what if you could not hear the gunshots you fired, nor the pleas from the victims you were exterminating?). 

Their new version stars Nicolas Cage in the hitman role, which - if his outward appearance means anything - reveals that he has what must to be the single worst toupee since William Shatner’s shamefully noticeable rug in later STAR TREK films.  Okay, so Cage’s India Ink black mullet is depressing to look at (his stylist should be shaken up), but what’s even more depressing is the fact that the Pangs have decided to not make Cage’s hitman hearing impaired. 

Now, would there not have been a more interesting and compelling film to be made here if Cage – a more than proven actor – could have really sunk his teeth into a very atypical anti-hero?  I grew dizzy just thinking about all of the dramatic and thematic possibilities of allowing for Cage to do something really different with this type of familiar material.  Alas, the Pang’s opted to make Cage a man with all of his senses in check, which they recently rationalized in an article as being done for the sake of making the film more "commercial."  I guess that marketing concerns – not artistic ones – drove this film.  What’s really odd is that allowing Cage to fully emote was the wrong choice, because the actor here gives a textbook exercise in sleepwalking through an emotionless and monosyllabic performance.  This is probably the closest I’ve seen an Oscar winner and multiple Oscar nominee be utterly comatose throughout a film.  His performance is regrettably dead on arrival from scene to scene.

The basic plot is the stuff of regurgitated lonely, introverted, and trust-no-one hitman movies 101:  Cage plays Joe, one of those contract killers that's tough, ill tempered, cold, calculating, and unflinching.  Via a tired and tedious voice over narration, he tells us that he lives by an obligatory self-prescribed code of conduct of being a killer:  don’t develop attachments to anyone, don’t leave any traces, and don’t get caught.  Gee, I wonder if he will break not one, not two, but all of those tenants? 

Joe decides that it's time for “one last mission” before he says “audieu” to his tortuous and lonely profession.  His mission takes him to Bangkok to carry out a series of four hits for a Thai mobster.  Pretty routine…right?  Well, for some inexplicable reason Joe decides to hire a street smart pickpocket named Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm) to serve as his messenger and translator.  As to why he trusts this completely untrustworthy street fiend is beyond all common sense, but he does and astonishingly decides that he will train him in the way of killing people.   And…dammit…he begins to bond with him, breaking one of his serious rules. 

Things get even more complicated for Joe.  About halfway through completing his mission he decides for even more inexplicable reasons to get close to a cute deaf/mute pharmacist (Charlie Yeung) he takes a liking too.  She serves as an innocent foil to the dark, desolate, and thoroughly tragic lifestyle that Joe lives everyday.  Of course, with startling unavoidability, she discovers that this would-be love of her life is actually a ruthless and cold-blooded assassin, which turns her off big time and makes Joe even more grumpy and untrusting of the world.  The final straw that breaks his back occurs when his Thai employer wants him to take out a prominent and highly popular local politician.  He develops a crisis of conscience for reasons never thoroughly explained beyond that of plot convenience, and his unwillingness to fulfill his end of the bargain infuriates his gangster bosses.  This leads to the crime family threatening Joe’s new friends, which inevitably means that Joe must now make a stand and do “the right thing” to secure his friends’ freedom and rid the world of the threat of these criminals.  All of this culminates in a kidnapping, a lot of threats on both sides, a series of gun battles, and…blah, blah, blah, blah. 

BANGKOK DANGEROUS suffers from such an elephantine pacing and a monotonously tired script that you kind of have to prop you head up with you hand just to stay awake and alert throughout its running time, and at 99 minutes it’s a Herculean endurance test.  The film, at times, is unbearably slow moving: it seemingly takes forever to get the mechanisms of the plot to get going.  The script’s attempts at humanizing this vindictive killer are asinine at best, not to mention that the love affair he has with the deaf-mute pharmacist is lacking in any sort of passion, heat, or palatable chemistry between the two stars.  BANGKOK DANGEROUS is the epitome of cookie-cutter screenwriting, as it adds nothing of weight and substance to an ever-growing stale genre.  Again, the wiser choice would have been to make Cage’s killer deaf, but the safer route taken here just falls flat at every turn: it’s just depressingly formulaic. 

Even the film’s aesthetic appearance is depressing.  I have never seen an action film shot with such maddeningly murky, dark, and washed out cinematography.  BANGKOK DANGEROUS is dirty to look at: There are times where the Pangs shoot things with such an impossibly black, muddy and perpetually dark scheme that it often makes scenes nearly impossible to watch.  Usually the technical merits of a soulless action vehicle makes the film tolerable on a level of its consummate and professional sheen, but BANGKOK DANGEROUS is disturbingly listless and grimy as a visual experience.  It’s the kind of the film that should be required viewing in film classes as to how one should not shoot a film.  Since the artistic polish of the film is bankrupt, many of its action set pieces are difficult to follow.  Then there are other stylistic choices, like the film’s very last shot, which adds absolutely nothing to the scene that preceded it.  Did someone highjack the editing bay from the Pangs and threaten them to produce the single most unsatisfying and uninspiring final shot in recent film history?  Sure looks like it.  

I have used the term “depressing” a lot in my review thus far, which is precisely the best descriptor of my experience of watching BANGKOK DANGEROUS.  How could a film that is so abysmal is so many uncalculated ways see the light of day?  Perhaps the largest onus of blame should befall the film’s star.  Nicolas Cage bizarrely served as both the film’s lead actor and producer.  On a performance level, his bizarrely stiff and ineffectual work here is a festering display of phoning in emotions for a fat paycheck, and after a series of questionable films like NEXT, THE WICKER MAN, NATIONAL TREASURE PART ONE and TWO and GHOST RIDER, I am starting to wonder where his gifts and range as an actor have gone.  Where is the greatness of Cage from movies like LEAVING LAS VEGAS, BRINGING OUT THE DEAD, ADAPTATION, MATCHSTICK MEN, THE WEATHER MAN, and LORD OF WARBeats me.  What’s key here is that his clout as an bankable talent has given him some free reign to produce as well, but no man of sound artistic vision could see BANGKOK DANGEROUS as being even passably watchable.  Maybe that’s why the studio gave it no critic screening (the ultimate kiss of death) and dumped it to unassuming filmgoers during the least respected cinematic month of the year (September), where most films are all but abandoned to die a quick death. 

How very depressing, indeed. 

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