Bangkok Dangerous is an oft frustrating and disappointing experience, not because it is inherently bad per se, but rather because it shows promise yet consistently squanders it. At its core, the movie exists as a compelling and at times- engaging feature that caters to high octane thrills and adequate drama. Yet burdened with an overwhelming sense of kitschy design put in place to satisfy those looking for no-fuss action, the feature inevitably comes to a close in a manner that reflects the experience as a whole. This unconvincing back-and-forth structure inevitably hinders the movie's ability to fully envelop in the manner that it hopes to; the action can be potent, but all too contrived; characterisation welcome but treated as plot devices; drama which is emotive and interesting but underplayed all the same. A jarring, neurotic affair with underdeveloped promise and too many flaws to capitalise on such greater features, Bangkok Dangerous is a two headed monster, one of which is far easier on the eyes than the other.
Following impeccable and high-end contract hit-man Joe (Nicolas Cage), the focus of Bangkok Dangerous is simple; a man who lives by 4 rules which dictate how to do his job with precision and success, Joe is also one ridden with loneliness, unable to create relationships with anyone for fear of breaching his security. At its heart, this is the story that Jason Richman wants to bring out, and for the most part, it's what gives the feature its most engaging form of narrative. Going from here it's only natural that Joe should find a woman within his new location of Bangkok, who comes in the form of a deaf pharmaceutist. This subplot plays out well in the context of Joe's story; through her we see his softer, more human side, and Cage does well in getting across such sides of his character naturally. The romance isn't as potent as one might hope, but given that Bangkok Dangerous isn't exactly a movie likely to pander to the whims of romantics, such casual development is forgivable.
What isn't quite as forgivable however lies in two other subplots which too often distract and take up too much time from the two characters in the story that we care for. The first of these unwanted aspects comes in the form of Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm) who essentially plays the part of Joe's apprentice of sorts, because, well, Joe sees a little of himself in Kong. Granted there are some strong moments that play out in this dynamic, but again hindered by a sense of trying too much in too little time, such moments are lost within a cloud of underdeveloped ideas. Branching off of this subplot is another which goes even further and tries to develop some sort of romance between Kong and a distant associate that supplies Joe with his contracts. Not only is it a superfluous and unnecessary inclusion, but it doesn't even provide any substance when it does show up. Every time I had to sit through such moments I couldn't help but think of what could have be shown on screen between Joe and his love interest, instead of the perplexing and inane "romance" that was in front of me.
Reinforcing the central motif of the film's sporadic and mixed bag nature though is its aesthetic design which often complements the movie's biggest and most poignant moments- action and character orientated. Perhaps the most significant and consistent of these elements is the enveloping score penned by Brain Tyler who has made a habit out of writing for creatively jarring movies such as this. Remaining as the only real constant of the film outside of Cage's natural performance, Tyler reinforces the moods of the film throughout, echoing themes of loneliness, confliction and unbendable duty through his similarly structured compositions. Although not quite as complementary or remarkable as the score, the photography by Decha Srimantra has some interesting moments in itself which help to draw the attention past the numerous instances of dry, uninspired action.
In the end however, Bangkok Dangerous essentially comes down to a battle between opposite forces, literally speaking. Like their central character, directors Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang are too often found conflicted by a willingness to stick to the genre's action-orientated blueprints and a more natural but fleeting sense of romantic characterisation. It's a statement in itself that Bangkok Dangerous, a film that will most likely attract those looking for explosions and gun fights, will no doubt leave such audiences underwhelmed by the mediocre action, and unfulfilled by a distinct lack of focus on such. Indeed, it's an interesting and ironic twist that the real substance and entertainment value to be had here lies in the character of Joe himself, and his conflicting state of mind rather than his weapons. That's not to say that Bangkok Dangerous is neutered, because it certainly has its thrilling moments, but such instances are best when left to pander to character rather than run off on their own. So while the movie certainly doesn't ever take off, it at least stays close to the ground with a fine and fitting performance from Cage, and tells a decent character story all the same; a throwaway action movie for those only interested in seeing action as consequence of drama and character.
- A review by Jamie Robert Ward (http://www.invocus.net)
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