There was a time not long ago when a Nicolas Cage film would command swirling industry buzz, a spellbinding marketing push, and demand the most prestigious spot at the area multiplex to placate the stampeding masses. Today, Cage is relegated to movies that barely make a splash on the pop culture canvas, are released over one of the worst weekends to unload a feature film, and eventually soak up little coin at the box office. This is not the Nicolas Cage I used to adore, and "Bangkok Dangerous" is not the type of dreck the once mighty prince of strange should be wasting his time with.
A hitman with a gift for stealth attacks, Joe (Nicolas Cage) is sent to Thailand to carry out a series of contract killings. Settled into the lively, impulsive environment of Bangkok, Joe hires grifter Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm) to help him polish off his targets, soon stumbling upon a gorgeous deaf-mute pharmacist who exposes unexpected sympathies within the professional killer. Required to assassinate a leading politician, Joe finds his allegiances have changed, declining the hit, and raising the sadistic ire of the crime family that brought him to town. Now on a race to get out of Bangkok alive, Joe must consider the welfare of his new friends, leaving the once ruthless executioner vulnerable to the city's unforgiving elements.
Remaking their cult 1999 film "Bangkok Dangerous," the Pang Brothers (Danny and Oxide) have returned to the shallow Hollywood shores they dipped a toe in with 2007's dreary bore, "The Messengers." Now settled down with material familiar to their special Pang touch, it seems a foregone conclusion that the new "Bangkok" would contain the same measure of spitfire as the old "Bangkok." However, that's not including the Nicolas Cage factor in this assumption.
An actor of outstanding entertainment value, Cage doesn't always fit snugly inside material in the same heroic manner he imagines. The actor has a way of weighing down movies where he's woefully miscast, draining the life out of screenplays that should conceivably be a total gas. "Bangkok" is a prime example of Cage wedged into the wrong film. He's a comatose, bewigged force here; a drab screenwriting cliché in search of directorial muster to make the character passably dimensional. Leaving matters of coherence to the Pang Brothers is a huge mistake, and it leaves Cage hanging during the picture. Joe is equal parts Miyagi and murderer, offering Cage a platter of reactions and impulses to enjoy. It's a crime he's such a dour screen presence in the picture. Without any Cagey tics and bops to wake up the proceedings, there's nothing in "Bangkok" worth investing in.
It's hard to discern what's so appealing about the Pangs. They're an extremely clichéd pair of filmmakers, indulging in every trendy editing and photography tool around to conjure up a threatening world for Joe to wade through. "Bangkok" should be a dense visual feast of inhospitable foreign lands, but it seems someone on the crew forgot to plug in the lights.
The film is shot so impossibly dark (and predictably transformed into a bland acid-washed visual experience by the color-phobic goons that currently run the post facilities), it's difficult to stay close to the few pockets of action the film indulges in. Maybe this is the Pang way of keeping the eye off the obvious deficiencies of the filmmaking, but it's maddening, leaving me aching for someone in the cast to spark up a lighter or flick open a cell phone for just a few more levels of illumination.
There's never an instant in "Bangkok" where the story feels motivated by emotion. Joe's eventual thaw is fumbled by the Pangs' unfamiliarity with sentiment, and it makes the film's eventual slide into sacrifice hard to swallow. It leads to a somewhat daring ending (for Cage at least), but it's attached to the wrong film. "Bangkok Dangerous" is a shallow picture, not something that's capable of suggesting grand displays of salvation. The film is a bore, not a heartbreaker, a reaction that's reinforced by a few moments of extreme gore tossed around to jolt the viewer awake. It's hard to be a romantic tragedy when boat propellers are chopping hands off. Something tells me that'll lose the female audience.
The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio) image quality on the "Bangkok" DVD is commendable for preserving the grainy textures of the cinematography. While an obsessively low-lit feature, the presentation never bothers, keeping the desaturated look easy enough to read while maintaining nice detail on the film's rare moments of humanity.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound event is terrific with high action, keeping the bullets whizzing by in the surround channels while retaining dialogue, acceptably separated from scoring selections and overall mayhem. Soft Thai atmospherics fill out the rest of the mix. A 2.0 mix is also available.
English and Spanish subtitles are included.
WARNING: Listed as a "2-Disc Special Edition," the second disc of this DVD set is only the film's Digital Copy.
"Alternate Ending" (8:38) radically changes the fate of the main character, turning the conclusion of the film into something far more mainstream and easy to digest.
"From Hong Kong to Bangkok" (15:21) acts as a historical piece on Asian cinema, with the discussion led by journalist David Chute. Walking through the years of cinematic achievement, Chute is an interesting guide, only hampered by the lack of films clips available to buttress his talking points.
"'Bangkok Dangerous:' Execution of the Film" (13:31) interviews cast and crew for their thoughts on crafting a picture on the streets of Bangkok and how the film came together with a major American star. While not aggressively promotional in nature, the featurette is careful to praise the Pangs highly and isolate Cage's work ethic.
A Theatrical Trailer has been included on this DVD.
It turns out Bangkok isn't very dangerous. It's glacial, abysmally photographed, dreadfully acted, faintly plotted, and frequently absurd. But dangerous? Not really.
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