In 1999, The Pang Brothers made film called BANGKOK DANGEROUS. People liked it. It added luster to the Brothers’ reputation. They moved on to make other action flicks in Asia with great success and other kinds of flicks in America with less success. At some point the Brothers looked at one another, and this is purely speculation, and said, “Hey, let’s remake BANGKOK DANGEROUS, only this time, instead of an Asian actor who is dynamic and charismatic, we’ll use Nicolas Cage. Which isn’t to say Mr. Cage hasn’t had a good run, but here, he seems to have made peace with having run out of steam.
The story is one of an assassin for hire, and not one who is an automaton, despite the entropy that Mr Cage brings to the role. No, this assassin is philosophical and he shares that philosophy and his rules for living the assassin-for-hire life as an ongoing voice-over narration performed as though he is about to fall asleep. Brought in from who cares where to the titular city to perform four jobs, it’s all going according to plan until our assassin begins to break his rules. The more important one being a peculiar sort of bonding with Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm), the local he hires as an intermediary with the full intention of disposing of him when the jobs are over. Kong, however, stirs something in our assassin, who decides to mentor him instead. He flouts another of his rules, as well, when he falls for the deaf pharmacy assistant who sells him something for a nasty cut he suffered during his first hit. Kong, for his part, falls for the showgirl who gives him the briefcases for delivery back to our assassin. While the latter is smitten with the deaf girl’s sweet smile and excellent miming abilities, Kong is smitten with the showgirl’s hard smile and ability to gyrate.
What was interesting in the original is anything but in the remake, including just who is the deaf-mute (it was the hitman in the original). Cage from the first frame looks like someone who should be offered an antacid as quickly as possible, and one of prescription strength at that. He should also be offered a makeover. His chosen hairstyle is a preternaturally black color and shaped like a scraggly helmet. His apparel, at one point is full leathers in a Thai summer. He deals in two expressions, dyspeptic and psychotic. Even the smiles that his deaf sweetie inspires don’t seem to actually warm the cockles of his heart. Our assassin is undergoing some sort of mid-life crisis, career burnout, or the beginnings of a peptic ulcer.
Yet that is only part of why this attempt to make a psychological action flick is irretrievably undermined. Stylish direction abounds, with nifty exposures, camera angles, and filter work that makes Bangkok a city of nighttime even during the day. The pace is barely noticable, the action is somnambulant, even with scads of shootouts, explosions, and frequent visits to a nightclub boasting a string of synchronized hootchie dancers. Lowering the tone even more is the way the Pang Brothers manage to reference the way a fruit cart always gets knocked over during a conventional chase. Here, it’s a fruit boat in a floating market and it smacks of just so much pandering to the audience in an attempt to be perceived as clever. The same can be said of the reference to the Kennedy assassination in Dealey Plaza. As for the attempts at metaphor, having Cage appear deathly white as the death be brings is so obvious and heavy-handed as to be painful. The elephant metaphor, and the critter is everywhere here, is not obvious. In fact, it teeters on the other end of the scale by being obtuse.
There is also the issue of why the action remains in Bangkok. How is a tall, gawky white guy shooting a firearm in a crowded market supposed to be able to melt into the crowd after the job is done?
Sure BANGKOK DANGEROUS offers the sights of its Thailand: the Floating Market, the Reclining Buddha, the Bangkok Sheraton, but it’s also leaden, obvious, and pretentious. Skip the remake and try the original instead.