Sunday, September 14, 2008

Movie Review:Bangkok Dangerous

What is it about arguably great actors...or at the very least, highly entertaining actors...where they feel compelled to show up in hairstyles so bad they make Telly Savalas look fashionable? Tom Hanks infliced us with the pseudo-mullet in The DaVinci Code (2006) and now, proving he learned nothing from the follicly challenged Con Air (1997), Nicholas Cage is back to show that bad hair can't ruin a good movie or save a bad one.

I suspect nobody had their viewing pleasure of either Davinci or Con by the mistakes in the head department. Both were eminently enjoyable for their target audiences. Conversely, the hair can't save Bangkok Dangerous (2008).

Joe (Nicholas Cage) is the unbelievably dumb assassin who rolls into Hong Kong for a few jobs for his new Thai clients. Joe has rules such as don't ask questions. Unfortunately, he only occasionally plans out his assassinations and accepts jobs for whenever or wherever the clients suggest. This, of course, means he would be very easy to set up should his clients so choose since they would know when and where the hit is being performed.

For example, when he is told to whack a gangster at the Sheraton while making it look like an accident he is forced to drown the guy more or less in plain view of everyone, though oddly his deed goes unnoticed.

When another hit goes bad on the waterways, he does not call it off but instead engages in a high-profile, high-speed chase through the waterways and ends by pulling the trigger in plain sight, then having a lengthy pose so anyone who might desire can photograph it.

Along the way, Joe breaks his own rules and takes on Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm) as his student. Since he normally kills his errand boys, this is a step up morally speaking. Yes, teaching someone how to commit murder is a positive step...that tells you something about the theme of this movie.

But along the way, Joe falls for a local pharmacist, Fon (Charlie Yeung). She is mute so their communication is non-verbal which, in conjunction with the constant questions of Kong, reawaken his conscience.

This moves him into a new world. Ultimately, however, the final job of his career, the one that will make him rich, turns out to be a job he will not do. Fearful of betrayal, the gangsters kidnap Kong and Aom (Panward Hemmanee), the dancer/liaison who has started dating Kong.

Joe goes to rescue them which leads to the third action packed set piece and an ending that has him contemplating suicide. To understand his choice it is vital to understand the symbols of the movie.

Early on, Kong points out that an elephant trunk pointing down is emblematic of bad luck. As his relationships with Fon and King develop, Joe moves into a new world. In the world of the assassin he is emotionless, has no relationships, and is always prepared to move to the next job.

Now, however, he has a pseudo-friendship with Kong, he has a budding relationship with Fon, and he is starting to become part of the Thai culture. Emblematic of this, he makes a connection with a live elephant and then turns the elephant picture upside down...which turns its trunk right side up.

Later, Fon's deafness proves a problem as when 2 random guys try to mug Joe, he kills them both. Fon has her back turned and hears nothing, simply turns when blood splatters her and turns to see 2 dead men and Joe with a gun in her hand. She then rejects him.

Unfortunately, now Joe is part of a world that, through Fon, has rejected him but is no longer part of the world of killers. This is pointed out through the use of mirrors. Early on, he shows Kong that mirrors are all around them. Yet when he stops by the house of Fon on the way to rescue Kong, he fails to use the obvious mirror on his car and thus does not see she has repented of her acceptance of him.

Believing the Thai world and the world of happiness with Fon can never be, no longer an assassin, he rescues Kong whom he sees as a younger version of himself.

Of course, if Kong retakes the path Joe took, he can never continue the relationship with Aom. Thus ultimately Joe must die in order for Kong to have a new path that does not end up in the world of the assassin.

Too bad the movie never really sets up that way.

A dark, gloomy movie, it does have 3 action-packed, gunfire filled set-pieces, but they are pretty plain, by the numbers pieces that don't deliver on the promise. We have seen better boat/motorcycle chases in the James Bond, Italian Job, Bad Boys, and other franchises. We have seen better gunfights thousands of times. There is nothing really original or even exciting. The camera work is okay but too often replaces great shots with rapid cuts to convey movement and excitement.

This movie bombed at the box office and deserved to do so. If you like dark action, go see The Dark Knight again. If you life fun action, go see Iron Man. If you want a good "assassin who wants to retire after one last job that goes wrong" then check out Assassins (1995). Just don't bother with Bangkok unless you have a free Red Box rental for some reason.

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