Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Bangkok Dangerous

 

Review by Patrick Hodges

I’m supposed to hate Nicolas Cage, right?

With only a scarce few exceptions, this is pretty much what every “professional” critic has told me every time one of Cage’s movies has come out, ever since he won his Best Actor Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas in 1995.  And with a track record like his, perhaps it’s not wholly undeserved.  Most of his films in the last thirteen years have taken either a critical or a box office drubbing (or both), and I am certain that Bangkok Dangerous will add to that line of failures.  So why do I still like him?

Never mind the fact that he’s made some very memorable comedic films (Raising Arizona, Peggy Sue Got Married, Honeymoon in Vegas) or some of the coolest action films of all time (The Rock, Con Air, Face/Off) or even some recent films that succeeded financially despite his reputation (Ghost Rider, the two National Treasure films)… even some of his truly bad films, I find myself enjoying, just because he’s in them.  No matter how clichéd or dreadful the script, no matter how bad his hair is, I find myself liking his movies.  And this one was no exception.

The man exudes a quiet cool that is incredibly charismatic, whether he’s playing a car thief, a neurotic con-man or a clairvoyant.  Or, in this case, a hitman named Joe, who is in the Thai capital of Bangkok to perform a series of four hits, after which, ostensibly, he will retire.  He lives by the rules of his profession: no personal involvement, no loose ends.   But despite the emotional detachment that we might expect someone of his profession to have, he can’t keep the cracks in his armor from showing.  And that, too, is one of Cage’s strengths:  he has a very expressive face, especially his eyes, that can communicate volumes with just a look.  That is as much “acting” as reciting the script, at least to me.

It has always been Joe’s practice to employ a local to be his errand boy during a job, a person he would dispose of after the job’s completion.  However, when he meets Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm), he finds that he can’t be that man any more; especially after he meets, and subsequently falls for, a deaf-mute girl named Fon (Charlie Yeung).  And when he finds that one of his intended “targets” is a local hero and champion of justice… well, I won’t spoil the ending for you, if you choose to see it.

I did enjoy this film.  Cage delivered a surprisingly nuanced performance in a role where he could have gone overboard on the machismo or woodenness.  And I feel certain that most “professional” critics will end up disagreeing with me, but it was quite entertaining.  So, we must ask ourselves the question yet again:  is Nicolas Cage a good actor that has repeatedly made bad choices, or a bad actor that just got lucky a few times?  I honestly don’t care if I AM in the minority, but I favor the former.  

3 ½ / 5 stars

 
 
 
 
Review by Andrew Roode

 

This was, surprisingly, a very interesting action and character piece from Nicholas Cage. I generally find his work either very good or cheesily over the top. In Bangkok Dangerous he delivers an understated and nuanced performance as a hitman who has withdrawn from humanity for so long that when he steps back in, the personal and professional consequences are tremendous. To survive as a hitman he's lived by a set of rules. Finding a major contract for four jobs in Bangkok leads to deep, personal revelations when his strict adherence to those rules starts to peel away.

Cage's character, Joe, says at one point that the only way for him to do the job is to withdraw from humanity. He leaves no trace that he's ever existed, finds no acknowledgement from other human beings and exists only as the wind. Humanity "... starts to look like a different species" and he only comes out to study people for brief moments before withdrawing again to remind himself that they aren't. So what happens when he goes to Bangkok and the culture is so alien to him that he can't help be drawn into it?

There were a number of things I really liked about the movie. The exotic location is matched with beautiful cinematography and luxurious sets. The colors, the atmosphere and dark vibrance of the city at night is in stunning contrast to Joe's spartan and non-descript apartment: white walls and brown tables. The Pangs did an excellent job of drawing the audience into the same intoxicating world that Joe is drawn into. The sights in the markets, the sounds in the clubs and in the streets (and the wonderfully engaging score), the taste of the food and the smell of the city -- these all leapt out. The Pangs direction here is, in my opinion, some of their best work. Joe's hits are tense and well set up. In one particularly horrific action scene, the camera looks up at Joe who has just dispatched his target; Joe who stands in shock at himself for the brutal killing, Joe who realizes that killing has moral complexity since his humanity has reawakened. The camera lingers on Joe for an eternity, shock and awe in the audience; shock and awe as he realizes what he is.

So how does it happen? Is it the city that draws in him? Partially, but he's been in other exotic cities. Is it the sidekick and messenger he's hired on to be an errand boy? Partially. Joe reveals a soft spot when he sees that the sidekick goes above and beyond what he has been asked to do in order to protect Joe during an attempted robbery. Is it when he is first troubled in the film by his rule to leave no traces of himself? Is it when he makes a connection with a beautiful deaf pharmacist? Joe's survival in his career has been from dehumanizing himself from the rest of the species. Bangkok is dangerous to him because of the jobs he has taken and the people who have contracted him but Bangkok is also dangerous because he recovers part of himself. People who genuinely care about Joe crack the armour, at once strengthening and destroying.

Is it a nihlistic film? On a superficial and literal level, yes, Bangkok Dangerous is a nihilistic film about a guy who kills for a living. Much deeper is the understanding of how we are all shaped by our choices but how redemption and rebirth are possible -- even in the most unlikely of anti-heroes. 

3 ½ / 5 stars 
 
 
 
 
 
Review by David Tredler
 

Almost ten years ago, the Pang brothers, Danny and Oxide, directed a “hitman” movie in their native Thailand, and not a good one. Now comes the American remake which the brothers shot themselves. Is there an improvement from the original material?

There are a few changes, first. In the new version, the hero is a mysterious American hitman, arriving in Bangkok to execute four contracts. His last, before enjoying a golden retirement far from guns and death. Except that the plan goes wrong, and our hitman breaks his own rules, falling for a local girl. Add to that the fact that his own employers are trying to cross him, and then here comes the danger the title warned us about.

For a moment, before seeing the film, I thought it could be good. After all, the first Bangkok Dangerous film was so flashy, so annoying, so bad, that the directors could only do better. And to be honest, they did; they went with a more straightforward “classical” action movie. They ditched a bit of their useless over-stylized direction (far from all of it though), they cut the experimentation that comes with a deaf-mute hitman hero (Cage’s character suffered from neither of those disabilities), and the result is much more watchable.

Now, a good idea would have been to take advantage of remaking the movie to give it a brand new shape…for example, the shape of a cool action film. Which Bangkok Dangerous is not. It is much too predictable, in the action sequences, in the character development, even in the lines.  The quality of the film could have improved, had the Pang brothers decided to cut the ridiculous romantic storyline between the nice hitman and the poor deaf/mute Thai girl (can you see the connection with the original ?). But they did not.

And of course there is Nicolas Cage.  I love Nicolas Cage. Raising Arizona. Leaving Las Vegas. Face/Off. Bringing out the Dead. Lord of War. The Weather Man. The man CAN act, and he can act superbly when directed by a talented filmmaker. That’s not the case here. Here, all that matters is the man’s wig, as attested by the half dozen people credited as “Mr. Cage’s hair stylist”, or some approaching qualification. Of course the film is not unpleasant to watch... but I am afraid true quality is nowhere to be seen.

2 / 5 stars

Comments (2):

  • JackO @ 09/08/2008 ( 5:35:51 PM )
    Those are surprisingly good ratings considering the critic's reviews in comparison.
  • Roode @ 09/08/2008 ( 7:35:04 PM )
    Perhaps I had lowered or tempered expectations. I really didn't think that it was the stinkfest that the professional critics told me it was going to be.
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