Film Reviews: Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Bangkok Dangerous.
Starring Nicolas Cage and Shahkrit Yamnarm. Directed by Oxide and Danny Pang. Written by Jason Richman, based on Oxide and Danny Pang’s screenplay. Rated R.
Pang Thai

Asian twin directors fall flat in their remake of Bangkok Dangerous.


The Coen brothers have a new movie coming out this week, but how about the Pang brothers? Identical twins Oxide and Danny Pang hail from Hong Kong, but they’ve worked out of Thailand for most of their filmmaking careers. They made their American debut last year with the horror flick The Messengers, and their superbly creepy 2002 ghost story The Eye was remade into a Hollywood version this past spring (watchable but far inferior to the original). The Pangs didn’t do that film, probably because they were busy remaking their other big Asian hit, Bangkok Dangerous. The result topped the box-office charts this past weekend, but it’s sadly unworthy of its makers.
The new English-language version comes with several changes, most noticeably that the main character is no longer mute. Nicolas Cage plays Joe, a ghostly contract killer who never deals directly with his employers and whose One Last Score involves rubbing out four high-powered guys in Thailand. He’s glad to kill pimps and gangsters, but when his last target turns out to be a beloved politician who helps poor people, Joe suddenly grows a conscience.
This unlikely development is supposed to tie in to Joe’s romance with a deaf-mute pharmacy worker (Panward Hemmanee) and his attachment to a young pickpocket named Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm) whom he hires to run errands but winds up mentoring in the ways of killing for hire. Neither of these relationships is remotely plausible, and even if they were, Cage’s typically morose performance would have sunk them.
No matter, though. The Pangs didn’t become famous in Asia because of their movies’ rich character detail. They made their bones by offering up visceral thrills. The original Bangkok Dangerous was made in 1999 when John Woo still ruled the roost, and it offered a distinctively Thai patch on Woo’s trademark moody, flamboyant, operatic action style. By now, Woo’s sensibility has been thoroughly assimilated by filmmakers across the world, and many highly acclaimed action directors (Paul Greengrass, Alfonso Cuarón, Christopher Nolan) have moved on to grittier approaches. The Pangs have stubbornly stuck to the ’90s style, which makes their new movie look old hat before its time. They do at least deliver a couple of decent set pieces, like the one with the muggers chasing Kong down Bangkok’s back alleys or the daylit scene with Joe pursuing his mark in a boat through a floating market before killing him in gruesome fashion. These, however, are outnumbered by the pedestrian and confusingly edited sequences.
The Pangs do give us some nice bits of local color from their adopted homeland, and there’s a striking moment when Joe goes outside in a fit of moral anguish and finds himself staring at a wholly unconcerned elephant eating lazily on the opposite bank of a river. Still, that’s not nearly enough to spark this flabby thriller into life. Thailand’s film scene is now thriving, and partial credit for that is due to the commercial success of the Pang brothers’ early efforts. What a shame that they seem to have gone creatively stale just when Hollywood started to take notice of them.

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