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January 08, 2009

Bangkok Dangerous (2008)

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The Pang Brothers - 2008
Lionsgate Region 1 DVD

The Pang Brothers remake of their 1999 version of Bangkok Dangerous is not as good as the original, but neither is it as bad as some critics have have it. Perhaps making an English language film takes away a layer of the exotic that would be ascribed to work that was either largely in Thai or Cantonese. The Pangs are due auteurist consideration because of their consistent visual style and themes.

What is usually ignored is that the Pangs are Hong Kong filmmakers who primarily work in Thailand. This point is brought up because, as the Pangs are outsiders based on language and culture, their films are about outsiders. The main characters in the Pang films may be from another country, be differently abled, or simply find themselves, as in Re-Cycle as strangers in a strange land. In the original Bangkok Dangerous, the hitman is deaf, but his deafness works on his behalf so that he is not distracted by the sound of his gun. He is also from the country, and he and his friends are considered marginal even within the Thai underworld. The remake has Cage as the foreigner in Thailand, hired to do a job, but separated by culture and language.

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With his hair dyed black, Cage sometimes appears like a ghost, or a cadaver. Early in the film, in part of his off screen narration, Cage's character, Joe, mentions disappearing like a ghost. The suggestion is that Joe is already dead, emotionally and morally, if not literally. This would also be fitting as part of the Pangs' other films which are frequently ghost stories. It is Joe's renewed sense of humanity that is his ultimate undoing. This is somewhat parallel to The Eye in which the blind woman is "cured", only to see a world more terrible than imagined.

As a switch from the first Bangkok Dangerous, Charlie Yeung portrays a deaf-mute pharmacist. While this allows the Pangs to again explore the dilemma of characters who are unable to communicate with each other, the scenes with Cage work against the film in presenting a tourist's view of Bangkok. We are to believe that Joe, a world traveler, would find Thai food too spicy, causing him to break out in a sweat. The scene with Cage and Yeung making friends with an elephant also feels contrived. What does work is a scene where Yeung hands Cage a note declaring her feelings for him while the two are walking in a deserted park at night. We see Yeung in close-up, absorbed in infatuation, while we see Cage taking on two would be muggers in the background. Yeung cannot hear what is going on and is completely unaware of what has happened behind her until she feels the splash of blood on her jacket. While the scene is a reworking of a similar scene from the first version, it is one of the few moments in the new Bangkok Dangerous that is perfectly realized.

Parts of the new Bangkok Dangerous look like they were filmed in the attempt to give the film international appeal. While this is understandable considering the higher financial stakes, it also forces compromise on filmmakers, often denying them the ability to make the kind of films that initially garnered attention. Even the Pangs disorienting visual style has been toned down considerably. While the first Bangkok Dangerous was down and dirty, the new film too often emphasizes the exotic side of Bangkok, and not enough of the dangerous.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 8, 2009 12:16 AM


I haven't seen any of the Pang Brothers' other films, including the original, but it's safe to say that I didn't take anything away from this and if anything, I was bored throughout. Still, I did add the original to my DVD queue.

Posted by: Marina at January 13, 2009 05:18 PM

To be honest, I actually enjoyed this movie. Of course, the original was better. One major glitch I noticed was the scene where Charlie Yeung was dancing a traditional Thai dance, but isn't she deaf?? She could here the music, but could not hear the gunshots in the park??!! What were they thinking??!!

Posted by: Andy at February 15, 2009 02:03 AM