by HELEN GEIB
Bangkok Dangerous is a suspenseful and emotionally involving thriller about a professional assassin who accepts a job from a Thai crime boss to kill four men in Bangkok. The Pang Brothers, Oxide and Danny, co-directed from a script adapted from their original screenplay. The film’s visual style is substance over flash, eschewing pyrotechnics in favor of sustained tension and dramatic interest. The assured restraint of the filmmaking hit me with a shock of pleasure.
The film is a Hollywood remake of the Pang Brothers’ own earlier work, a fact that at this point inevitably creates an expectation of artistic failure. Happily the film defies expectations. The story is a well-crafted variation on the universal (in cinema) tale of the career criminal who courts his own destruction when he rediscovers his capacity for the softer human emotions. The production has the industry advantages of a big budget and an American star (Nicolas Cage, well cast). But while the Pangs might easily have transplanted the story to an American city, they wisely chose to retain the original’s Bangkok setting and make the film on their home ground. Bangkok Dangerous has a sense of place that is exceptionally rare in an American film set in a foreign country. This is not a tourist’s survey, but an insider’s street level evocation.
The hitman meets two people in Bangkok who become his guides to the city and to renewed feeling. One is a lovely young deaf woman named Fon (Hong Kong actress Charlie Young) whom he meets in a drugstore; he is immediately smitten as she, presaging her effect on his life, helps him tend to a physical wound. Their chaste romance is conducted through expressions and gestures. His craving to communicate with her impels him to an unwonted demonstrativeness that encourages and symbolizes his emotional reawakening.
His other guide is a young local man named Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm). He hires Kong to act as his courier in order to preserve his anonymity from his employers. Up to that point he is only following his standard procedure, but then he becomes Kong’s mentor, teaching him the rudiments of self-defense and marksmanship. Kong is a willing pupil because he hero-worships his employer as a strong, capable man who kills seemingly untouchable criminals. The hitman rationalizes his actions with the idea that the boy reminds him of himself, but that is at most a partial truth. In actuality, he feels a paternal love for Kong that complements his romantic love for Fon.
Bangkok Dangerous belongs to the class of films exemplified by John Woo’s The Killer that develop themes of spiritual crisis and re-birth through the medium of a sometimes violent genre film. Fon and Kong are good people. It is impossible for the hitman to care for them and continue living in the same way. The film’s climax is the collision of that impossibility with the equal impossibility of escaping the life he has so painstakingly built.
3 1/2 stars