Bangkok Dangerous Review
With the sheer amount of utterly disposable box office nonsense featuring Nicolas Cage in recent years, it’s very easy to forget he’s an Academy Award winning actor. His recent project choices might well be questionable, but he’s that rare breed of movie star and great actor which has allowed him to singlehandedly carry film with some genuinely memorable film personas. That said, Bangkok Dangerous never threatens to reach the heights of Face/Off or The Rock leaving me confused as to why Cage decided to take on this film in the first place.
Cage’s character, Joe, is a lone assassin who travels the world to undertake hits for his anonymous paymasters for which he is richly rewarded but consequently finds it impractical to form meaningful relationships. Indeed, we learn early on that any local hired help he requires is eventually disposed of by faking a heroin overdose to remove any evidence of his existence. Having completed this introductory hit in Prague the action moves to Bangkok where, as you’d expect from the title, the majority of the film takes place and becomes the setting for his final job.
The portrayal of Bangkok with its seedy night spots and bustling marketplaces is pleasingly authentic and undoubtedly one of more important contributions by Hong Kong directing partnership Oxide Pang Chun and (less eccentrically named brother) Danny Pang. Their other major contribution to the film is to bring the viewer close in to the action scenes, more endangered onlooker than casual observer, though there’s nothing here that could be described as classic. But it is refreshing to see a return to location, choreography and camera angles being used to convey action rather than the contemporary Hollywood shortcut of annoyingly fast editing which they probably think is brilliantly dynamic filmmaking but in reality is a spasmodic mess most of the time.
Alas, the action scenes contribute perhaps a quarter of the film and the remainder is dedicated to exploring the character of Joe as he contemplates ending his career as an assassin. Inevitably much of his preparation involves working from a secluded base and the clandestine acquisition of equipment and instructions. There’s nothing here that marks a departure from the genre except for his aforementioned relationship with his hired help, in this case a petty Thai criminal, Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm). A clash between the reserved, almost spectral presence of Joe and the cocksure, ostentatious manner of Kong results in some early conflict when instructions aren’t correctly followed and mistakes are made. A memorable moment sees Kong collecting a package which contains the very heroin which Joe plans to dispose of him with underlining that latter’s control of the relationship.
Inadvertently, Joe becomes attracted to a deaf Thai girl whose innocence and lack of curiosity about his work becomes a metaphor for his new life once he retires. This softening of his previously ascetic lifestyle leads him to spare Kong after he makes another mistake which jeopardises the entire job. As Joe is about to kill Kong, he pleads to be taught the skills of an assassin and some memory in Joe, perhaps about a similar event in his past, leads him to compassion. This is a pivotal point in the understanding of Joe but it isn’t handled particularly well and the film fails to capitalise on its most interesting idea of an assassin passing on the baton to his successor and his transition back into a normal life. As Joe begins to consider the implications of his very last hit, this loss of focus exposes him to danger which threatens his chance of a retirement.
Had more importance been placed upon this central theme, Bangkok Dangerous may well have been a very good film indeed. Unfortunately what we’re left with are some impressive action scenes lost in the midst of a confused character study. Worth watching if you’re a fan of the genre but probably otherwise best avoided, which is a real shame considering its undoubted potential.