Before the wide adoption of DVD and Blu-Ray, it seemed like there was a sense that other countries were making much better movies than America. A Run Lola Run here, an Oldboy there, and suddenly foreign film became a movie-geek magnet. Of course, this was just an illusion provided by the "cream of the crop" selection that the US was getting; these days, with smaller distributors bringing over the B- and C-grade material, it's clear that other countries produce as many forgettable movies as we do. To that end, we have Bangkok Revenge the newest in a long line of Thai action films still trying to capitalize on the success of Ong-Bak nearly ten years ago.
When he was only a few years old, Manit witnessed the death of his parents at the hands of corrupt police officers. His father, a noble cop, was in the dangerous process of trying to weed out the rats in his department when they decided to wipe him out. They discover young Manit and decide they've gotta take him out too, but the bullet one of them puts in Manit's brain fails to kill him. A noble nurse (Aphiradi Phawaphutanon) sneaks Manit out of the hospital and into the hands of a wise Muay Thai boxing teacher (Kowitch Wathana), who trains him into adulthood. Now grown up, Manit (Jon Foo) is looking to exact some revenge on the men who murdered his family. Upon returning to civilization, he teams up with Clara (Caroline Ducey), an investigative reporter who thinks corrupt cops will make for a good story, and Ananda (Pream Busala-Khamvong), a cop following in Manit's father's footsteps.
The big gag of Bangkok Revenge, if there is one at all, is that the bullet in Manit's brain has given him ataraxia: a lack of emotion. Although he's trying to find and kill the people who murdered his parents, he wanders around with his hands in his pockets, blank expression on his face, never appearing alarmed or surprised by anything that happens to him. It's an interesting idea -- a man out for revenge without any sort of hate or passion bubbling up inside him -- but director / writer Jean-Marc Minéo never really utilizes the concept, other than a few awkward jokes between Manit and Clara, such as a sex scene in which Manit hops right into bed and then hops right out afterward. One almost wonders if it's only a plot point so that Foo doesn't have to act.
Instead of a hook, the movie is a truly generic "investigation" action thriller, with Manit on the trail of the villains. Again, even that can't hold Minéo's attention, as he frequently shortcuts the story by having the bad guys attack Manit. Manit is given a folder filled with information his nurse "mother" compiled about the corrupt cops, but it's almost irrelevant, because a car full of villains eventually show up to kill him and he simply beats crucial information out of them. Ducey's investigative reporter character doesn't do a lick of investigative reporting that I can remember; instead, she's there to get captured and fall in love with Manit (a romance which definitely stretches the boundaries of plausibility). Minéo fails to clearly establish the villains, throws in some blatantly obvious red herrings, introduces a girl gang for no reason other than sex appeal, and offers only the most generic dialogue. The one bright spot is Simon (Michaël Cohen), a former French police officer now making money by fighting in bars. After only a few minutes, you wish he would team up with Manit instead (or, in a better movie, vice versa).
The fight sequences, however, are decent. Minéo isn't much of a screenwriter, but he does now how to shoot an action sequence without shaking the camera (although there's still a little hyperactive editing going on). Foo is also a strong martial artist, swiftly dancing around each attack and responding with a bone-crunching intensity. The action may not be enough to make Bangkok Revenge worth watching all on its own, but at least there's one positive in this thoroughly mediocre movie.
Well Go USA offers Bangkok Revenge with color-drained Photoshop artwork in line with so many other martial arts movies they've put out on Blu-Ray and DVD. Doesn't anyone like color anymore? Then again, I guess the darkness of the image matches the video presentation (more on this in a minute). The disc arrives in a Vortex eco-friendly Blu-Ray case, and there is no insert. An extra point back to Well Go, though, for not including a useless, slightly over-sized slipcover on this one like they usually do.
The Video and Audio
Bangkok Revenge gets an overly dark 1.85:1 AVC presentation. Blacks crush throughout the entire film. In fact, the darkness is so significant and consistent, I'd be willing to believe this was a purposeful stylistic decision, but if it is, it's not one I'm a huge fan of. Dim bar interiors, clubs, and night-time sequences turn into shadow-heavy blobs. Even Manit's pants are thick black strips, devoid of detail. There are also a handful of shots in which aliasing suddenly becomes a serious issue, with intrusive jagged edges visible on every angle (to the point at which the screen appears to be crawling with artifacts). There's no mistaking this for a standard-def presentation, as detail is very high, and the picture even looks decent during brightly-lit daytime sequences, but these issues really put a damper on the experience.
A DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 occasionally has that open emptiness and simplicity that defines low-budget and direct-to-video mixes, but this one has a few advantages that help it to stand out. At one point, the camera dives into Manit's head, allowing for some cool subdued surround audio effects as three attackers yell at him. Punches and kicks land with a nice intensity, with a cacophony of bone cracks and squishing sounds to round out the effect. The music is extremely generic, but city atmosphere is still handled nicely. An unremarkable but still above-average effort. Two English subtitle tracks are also provided (as much of the film is in English, the disc contains both a partial and complete subtitle stream).
An original theatrical trailer for Bangkok Revenge is the only extra. Trailers for Muay Thai Warrior, The Assassins, and Kill 'Em All also play before the main menu.
Bangkok Revenge is thoroughly unremarkable. Maybe there's a legion of Jon Foo fans that I don't know about who are dying to see this movie, but the fight scenes -- which are nothing special -- are the one entertaining highlight of this forgettable import. Skip it.
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