Bangkok Dangerous (2008)

10 Aug
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A greasy, smelly man finds lazy redemption, but not before killing scumbags.

A film with as much magic as Jeremy Kyle vomiting into a manilla folder; as much excitement as a race between an asthma inhaler and a dish cloth; and about as much charm as a juvenile delinquent painting roadkill with tippex, it’s Bangkok Dangerous. The box/ poster art for the film is perhaps the most interesting thing about it, with Cage looking like a human box, a square shoulder dropping down into a giant arm and hand, with a miniscule head perched atop the metallic-metal bulk of his chest. He looks like a flat, corrupted jpeg tearing itself out from a white-blue-gray cityscape that is all “glitched up”. Cheap dynamism via the graphic design for a discontinued energy drink. The title font is chunky and red with black lines scorched across it like skid-marks. Below that, the colour of explosions and… a hole blasted into the dvd case?! No, merely a CGI facsimile of shattered glass. However, if someone did shoot this dvd, they wouldn’t be arrested (being responsible for shooting the film however, is another matter).

In short, this is one of those action films that looks like a mediocre X-box racing game and deploys the ‘teal and gray’ palette to masquerade a gritty sophistication that it does not earn. The dialogue is composed of business talk and cod-philosophy that would only chime with the most chowder-headed of sociopaths. I regret to state that Bangkok Dangerous represents one of those rare instances in which Cage is truly phoning in his performance. Muscular, thinning-haired hitman Joe is a morose and serious man, requiring Cage to be slumped and frowny, rather than kinetic and wacky. We sense that he has a troubled past filled with killing people for money as he has a sad face. However, his face is sad in a manly way, like when men cry over the video for Johnny Cash’s cover of Hurt.

Joe is in Bankok for a final assignment, then he’s giving up the game. He hires local man Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm) to do his grunt work. There is a recurring joke in which Kong insults Joe in Taiwanese, to Joe’s ignorance. Yamnarm, whose filmography includes a movie about a murderous ex-girlfriend, is suited to playing men with ogling eyes in a pretty face. In this film, his eyes ogle Aom, played by Panward Hemmanee, who does well in an under-developed role and, like Yamnarm, is also pretty. (It might just be that I find Cage unusually unattractive in this film, who looks like he would smell of sweat and cigarettes and farts in leather trousers, so I paid more attention than usual to finding the rest of the main cast appealing.)

Making Joe an appealing character would be a hard task since he is entirely humourless and Cage’s disappointingly listless acting was never going to make him a winsome protagonist. So, instead, Joe is pitched against an unwholesome and pathetic cast of sexual traffickers, drug addicts and the President of Thailand (no aspersions made by me, but the fact remains that the President of Thailand is one of Joe’s targets). Basically then, the film consists of an unlikeable man killing deeply unlikeable men, while wearing leather.

There is also a romance in the film between Joe and a deaf-mute pharmacist, Fon, played by Charlie Yeung. There are scenes between the pair which are sweet if you forget Joe’s occupation, such as a date involving elephant feeding and a visit to Fon’s mother; however, I may have only enjoyed these scenes as I like to see Nic smile. Fon’s disability is worth noting because in the Tai original by the Pang Brothers (who then directed their own American remake here, as with Michael Haneke and Funny Games) it was the hitman protagonist who was deaf. Fearful that not giving Nic any lines would affect his box-office draw, they introduced a girlfriend, blithely changing the script, without nay a care in the world. More information gleamed from Wikipedia is that Bangkok Dangerous was “the first film since Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star to debut at number 1 with such a low gross” of  $7.8 million. I reliably inform you that these pop facts are more entertaining than the film itself. I cannot speak for Dickie Roberts.

To return where we came in, with the dvd box of Bangkok Dangerous, which fails to mention any of Cage’s previous box-office or critical successes (speaking, sadly, to the fact that the likes of Face Off or Leaving Las Vegas were by 2008 a distant memory) critic Alan Frank of the Daily Star claims that the film is “hugely entertaining”. To be frank Alan, it isn’t. At least Boy in Blue gave us some good puns. I felt uninspired watching this film.

P.S. Is it a rule that the more compulsory trailers there are at a start of a dvd the worse of a film it will be?

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