Bangkok Dangerous (review)

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The Quick and the Dud

Look, Nicolas Cage is an assassin, okay? (If that scrawny little Scot James McAvoy can be an assassin, then Nic “Con Air” Cage sure as bloody hell well can be too.) He’s tough. And hardened. And impervious to human emotions. He doesn’t care what you think. He doesn’t care that you snicker at his long greasy hair, which is kinda goofy and does nothing to convey the I-don’t-give-a-shit-ness he believes it conveys. He doesn’t even care if you hate this movie (even if he was too scared to show it to film critics before it opened). He just doesn’t care.
So he stalks the rain-slicked, neon-bright streets of seedy Bangkok, trying to look badass and totally unmoved by the cheap hookers with their tits hanging out and the too-skinny guys with their bad teeth and worse English trying to hustle tourists and the little ragamuffin urchins selling their cheap pieces of junk to whomever will buy…

What’s that? Now he cares? Now he can’t help but suddenly notice the pathetic and hungry little kids with a look of desperate pity? Now he suddenly pays attention to a pretty shop clerk who’s nice to him? Now he finds himself taking his local errand boy under his wing, instead of killing the poor jerk once he’s done with him? Now he’s communing with freakin’ elephants, fer Christ’s sake? And this makes him reconsider his life of cool weaponry and obscene, under-the-table paydays and heroin use and, you know, everything that defined the inhuman robot he’s been?

I’m making Bangkok Dangerous sound more interesting than it actually is. Sorry.

What happened is this: Two guys named Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang — they’re brothers — made a movie in their native Thailand in 1999 called Bangkok Dangerous. It was about a deaf-mute hitman, his sidekick, and the woman who kinda loved both of them. It was wildly stylish, from a visual perspective, and just as wildly devoid of almost any human emotion. But you could see that these Pang kids had some raw talent. So of course Hollywood came a-callin’, and said, “Come work for us. We’re pay you a shitload of money. All you have to do is sell us your souls.” And the brothers said yes.

So now Nic Cage (National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Next) is the hitman. He’s not deaf-mute. This new script — based on the Pangs’ movie but Americanized by Jason Richman, who also wrote the execrable Swing Vote, which kinda explains the hot and cold running awfulness here — transfers the deaf-muteness to pharmacy worker Fon (Charlie Young), because while that makes her more vulnerable, more preposterously inappropriate as a love match (or even a sex match) for Cage’s Joe, it does make her a perfect tender soft cuddly little sacrifice, because who doesn’t love seeing sweet innocence killed by the machinations of Hollywoodized iniquity? (Ah, the moment when her innocence is shattered is simply ridiculous, and one of the few moments of the movie that moved me to feel anything. Alas that that feeling was one of derision.)

Also, Nic Cage can’t be deaf-mute because then how could he regale us with his unending inner dialogue — shared with us in tedious voiceovers — about how his life is changing now that, you know, he sees elephants as beautiful and stuff? (Now, now, don’t tell me that a deaf-mute character could still have a running conversation with himself in his head. That would simply be way too confusing for American audiences, which the studios clearly feel can be approached only on a talking-down-to basis.) Joe’s introspection isn’t merely dreary, but, as a bonus, it’s also obvious. When he wonders to himself, “Why didn’t I kill him?” — him being Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm), the local help, whom Joe’s own rules demand be eliminated at the end of a job — only someone newly arrived from Mars, someone who’d never seen a movie ever, could fail to supply the next line: “When I looked into his eyes, I saw myself.”

There’s nothing menacing about Joe, which is a problem, seeing as how he’s supposed to be a heartless hired killer, but it’s a bigger problem, for me, that Cage couldn’t make me feel anything at all. Not pity, not disdain; I couldn’t even be bothered to be bored by him. That’s bad. But Dangerous gets even worse: it sucked all the creative energy out of the Pang brothers. Any hint of the talent their 1999 flick demonstrated is entirely absent here, and it’s been replaced by a jarring, uneven tone — quite hilarious is the intercutting of Joe’s gentle romancing of Fon with Joe’s clinical teaching of now-apprentice Kong how to shoot melons like their people’s heads — and turns of events so absurd you’d laugh at them, if you could be bothered to react that much.

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Sun, Sep 07, 2008 9:47pm

I have to say that I’m actually disappointed. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but by your review and extended previews I’ve seen it doesn’t look like the ridiculously over-the-top yet entertaining diversion I hoped it might have been. I mean, I don’t expect much out of Nicolas Cage anymore; Ronny and Sailor were many a crappy movie ago. I just thought this one could have been fun, had he at least mustered some enthusiasm. I still think he’s got it in him to be magnetic and carry a flimsy moive. If he’s to be in ridiculous action movies, he might as well bring back the mania and energy he brought to Face/Off. Now he always looks half-asleep. I’ve always thought that blasé was an overused word, but I think it fits the bill for him. It feels like he indulges us in an half-assed way.

That said, he doesn’t pick great scripts either. It’s not like he “ruins” good movies. Ghost Rider, for all the character’s potential, was just tolerable. If it hadn’t been for Wes Bentley and my being a sucker for all things “biblical”–seriously, Wes’s saying of “I am Legion, for we are many” is the highlight of the movie for me–I would have been miffed for seeing it in theater.

And the less said about Next, the better. Next, indeed!

Pen Dragon
Pen Dragon
Mon, Sep 08, 2008 3:26am

Shame about the movie and all, but did you say that guy’s name is Oxide? Oxide? Really?
I dare say a guy named Oxide can do whatever he wants, and no one will dare call him on it. After all, his name is Oxide!

Fri, Sep 13, 2013 2:07am

Your review was so good that it made be glad I had seen the movie, just so I could appreciate it (the review, not the movie).