NPR logo 'Bangkok Dangerous': A Hit Man Adrift In Thailand


'Bangkok Dangerous': A Hit Man Adrift In Thailand

Nicolas Cage brings a Hollywood name to the Pang Brothers' English-language remake of their 1999 original. Lionsgate Films hide caption

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Lionsgate Films

Nicolas Cage brings a Hollywood name to the Pang Brothers' English-language remake of their 1999 original.

Lionsgate Films

Bangkok Dangerous

  • Director: The Pang Brothers
  • Genre: Action
  • Running Time: 99 minutes

Rated R: Shows contract killings, car chases and some overt sexuality.

Bangkok is "corrupt, dirty and dense," announces hit man Joe (Nicolas Cage) as he arrives in the Thai capital. But it's also, this surprisingly artful B-movie suggests, the sort of place where an assassin just might rediscover his scuttled humanity.

The Pang Brothers' partially sanitized remake of their own 1999 thriller, Bangkok Dangerous offers two gifts to stateside moviegoers who couldn't make the trip to the original: a Hollywood leading man and dialogue — what there is of it — in English. Otherwise, the film is more Asian than American, both in its style and its soul.

The tale opens in a blue-tinted Prague, as Joe quickly dispatches first his target and then his local assistant. (The killer abhors loose ends.) Then it's off to Bangkok, whose color scheme is equally chilly, even though the directors tour such red-hot local venues as strip clubs, bordellos and kickboxing arenas. This swarming metropolis is where Joe plans that staple of the hit man genre: the "last job."

Joe's final assignment is actually four separate hits, which means the assassin will be in town long enough to break most of his self-protective rules. Most significantly, he becomes close to two locals.

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Joe serves as a martial-arts mentor to newly hired gofer Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm) — and he begins romancing a gentle pharmacy clerk named Fon (Hong Kong pop singer Charlie Yeung). The latter can't hear or speak, so she doesn't even notice when Joe interrupts a date to fight off two thugs. Until, that is, she feels their blood spatter on her dress.

Ultimately, of course, Joe will begin to doubt his homicidal vocation. Fon is a big part of his transformation, but so is a trip to a Buddhist cave temple, as well as a benediction delivered by a local elephant.

And in the midst of the movie's second major battle, Joe hits on an idea for transcendence that's more Chow Yun-Fat than Sylvester Stallone. (Where the Hollywood hero is usually the last man standing, the Asian one often chooses a romantic oblivion.)

With its ghostly images, narrow planes of focus and deliberate pacing, the movie feels oddly serene. That makes the violent set pieces — notably a gag involving a severed arm — all the more startling. Bangkok Dangerous is hardly a philosophical work, but the Pang Brothers do leave some space for contemplation between shootouts.