Reviews

Bangkok Dangerous

By Garth Franklin September 5th 2008, R, 100min, Lionsgate
Bangkok Dangerous

Considering how the once exotic South-East Asian city has been gentrified and militarized in recent years, underage transsexual hookers lifting the wallets from inebriated Western tourists is about as adventurous as it gets in the modern Thai capital.

Of course rent boys with too much mascara who can peel a grapefruit using only their anus is something that is hard to classify as a business expense, thus leave it to Nicolas Cage to disguise his Indo-Chinese sojourn as an unjustified remake that looks good on the books at tax time.

Enlisting the help of the respectable Pang brothers to reimagine their own commendable 1999 local effort of the same name, the new 'Dangerous' does what most Hollywood studio remakes of foreign fare do - drains the life, edge and energy out of the original to appeal to both its main star and that multiplex audience out in the suburbs who classify sashwan beef as an exotic good.

Cage plays a burned out assassin, one of those jobs that people are either trying to get out of or break into in these kinds of movies. Armed with his own code for survival, a questionable taste in shirts and a mane of hair only a libidinous howler monkey could love, the contract killer knocks off a duo in Prague before heading to Thailand for one last series of jobs before retirement.

Setup allows for gratuitous location shooting around the titular city throughout with much location filming highlighting its colorful and often wildly incongruous nature. Yet all of the locales, from the urine-soaked back alleys to the high-class waterfront restaurants, seem tourist board-approved. Either the effect of recent urban renewal, or a more cautious approach on the Pangs part to not advertise the darker and less savory aspects of the city, rob the remake of the authenticity that made the original live up to its title.

Strolling from one scene to the next, the normally over-reactionary Cage takes the opposite tack here. The resulting apathy actually suits the character better, but short of sparse voiceover delivering familiar hitman life mantras, we get no real insight as to what lies underneath his hardened shell. This makes the sudden and unjustified disintegration of his emotional fencing in the second half, timed with the action which changes from controlled and mildly suspenseful one-off kills to rampant and over-acrobatic gunplay massacres, feel more contrived and ridiculous than it already is.

Thankfully what little grounding there is here comes from the local actors, most notably Shahkrit Yamnarm who delivers a solid turn as Cage's local lackey Kong. Neither slavishly obedient or obnoxiously dismissive, the actor plays the role of the reluctant at first but understandably swayed helper into a far more sympathetic role than it has every right to be (and oddly enough adds an interesting undercurrent of underlying homosexual tension with Cage).

Hong Kong singer Charlie Young also impresses. Stuck in the thankless role of the young deaf female pharmacist who doesn't speak English, she of course finds the clumsy Westerner's ignorance endearing enough to fall for him - fulfilling that white male sexualization of Oriental women fantasy that remains alive and well.

Thankfully, Young radiates a sweet genuine charm to make her cloying schmaltzy scenes with Cage bearable. Also, with its focus on the gun fighting, the Pangs seem to have left the inevitable but somewhat awkward love scene between the hearing-impaired Thai lass and the comb-impaired American thug on the cutting room floor - along with a proper resolution for her character.

There's a few good bits of action, most notably the floating market scene and a political assassination with Thai police in pursuit of our hero. The locations are never dull, even the surprisingly tame nightclubs demonstrate taste by playing cheesy pop melodies rather than the tinnitus-inducing bass throbbing that's made modern Western clubbing a repugnant exercise. Even a few of the action scenes highlight some ambitious camera and lighting work for a film of this smaller scale.

Yet they can't overcome the inherent silliness of the bare bones and mildly offensive characters, the familiarity of the plot, the 180-degree mid-point turnabout that completely derails whatever building suspense and interest we had in the story, and the lack of sheer balls and grit that made the original such strong and edgy fare. Neutered, but pretty, and lacking any real development, this is the cinematic equivalent of a eunuch whose voice unfortunately broke pre-castration.

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