Probably best known for their 2002 creep-fest, The Eye, the Pang Brothers (director, Oxide, and producer, Danny) launched their joint career with this stylish, but unsatisfying take on the "Hitman" picture, Bangkok Dangerous (1999). I wasn't the biggest fan of The Eye, but like that film this is a movie that is more than the sum of its parts. While the hackneyed plot holds together by a thread, there are still enough interesting moments throughout to please fans of the Brothers and their films.
Bangkok Dangerous, as the name would suggest, was shot in Thailand. For some reason I have yet to figure out, even though the Brothers are Hong Kong natives, they only make movies in Thailand. With the recent successes of the Thai film industry (Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior, Last Life in the Universe), I wonder if the Brothers might have had a hand in its heightened profile. Still, it's fairly obvious that making movies in Thailand is cheap, even compared to Hong Kong, which for first-time filmmakers is a definite plus. So, perhaps fueled by necessity they moved to Bangkok, and not wanting to mess with a good thing, have continued to make their movies there. It will be interesting to see how location plays a role in their upcoming film, Scarecrow, which Sam Raimi is producing and is currently filming in Saskatchewan, Canada.
Bangkok Dangerous follows the exploits of Kong, a deaf-mute Hitman, plying his trade in the seedy underworld of Bangkok. Kong's partner in crime, literally, is Joe, a former Hitman himself until he suffered a crippling injury to his hand, leaving him a shadow of his former self. Rounding out the trio is Aom, the go-between that Kong uses for his contracts. Aom is a tough, beautiful woman who still loves Joe, even though he can't return her feelings since he no longer cares for himself. Caught between a personal vendetta and a double-cross, the three friends find that the hunters have become the hunted. Kong's quest for redemption spurned on by the love of a drugstore clerk spells disaster for our anti-heroes and a tragic ending for everyone involved.
The film certainly starts off with a bang, as the Brothers use lots of innovative editing and sound tricks to immerse us in this unique world. Various audio clues hint at Kong's condition before we actually know his disability, during a hit taken directly from John Woo's A Better Tomorrow Kong is literally "shadowed" by his mentor, and a rain soaked, self-sacrifice also echoes Woo's The Killer. It's moments like these that make the film easy to like, but it's the choppy, unremarkable plot, the tacked-on romance and the lack of character development that make this film hard to watch.
Picture: Bangkok Dangerous is presented in a cropped Full Screen transfer, which cuts off some burnt-in text that appears later in the film. There are also several moments where the print suffers from scratches, dirt and other abuses of a lower quality film stock in a less than perfect storage environment.
Audio: There is a Thai Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track with English subtitles. The audio is actually much stronger than the picture quality, and is used by the Brothers to achieve certain effects with Kong's hearing disability.
Extras: The only Extra Feature on this DVD is the English language trailer, also in Full Screen, for First Look Pictures release of Bangkok Dangerous.
Conclusion: Taking into consideration that this was their first film together, Bangkok Dangerous is a great introduction to the Pang Brothers. That being said, it's a shame that much of the film feels derivative of what John Woo, Ringo Lam and Tsui Hark had already been doing in Hong Kong during the 80's and 90's. Still, its hard not to escape the reputation of these top filmmakers when trying to make your mark, and perhaps this is another reason for their departure to Thailand, a country not preciously known for a bustling film industry. With their English language debut on the way, this is another opportunity to see the Brothers sense of style, which is already pretty developed in this film, but it's the stutters in the storytelling aspects that weigh Bangkok Dangerous down, the lackluster DVD doesn't help matters any. Still, if you're a fan of the Brothers, than don't hesitate to give this one a rental.