Twin filmmakers Danny and Oxide Pang are best known for the original version of The Eye, a creepy thriller that spawned several sequels and a bad American remake. But it was their earlier film, the award-winning Bangkok Dangerous--which has since been remade by them and stars Nicolas Cage--that first brought the Hong Kong-born brothers international attention. Produced in Thailand, Bangkok Dangerous was an ambitious mix of visually stylish cinema and exploitation flicks that helped usher in the new wave of Thai film.
Set on the mean streets of Bangkok--hence the title of the movie--Bangkok Dangerous starts off with promise, as hitman Kong (Pavarit Mongkolpisit) carries out an assassination. Kong, as it turns out, is a deaf mute, and he gets his orders from femme fatale Aom (Patharawarin Timkul), who is in love with Joe (Pisek Intrakanchit), who happens to be Joe's mentor and best friend. It seems that Joe was injured on an assignment, making it difficult for him to kill, and leaving Kong to do all of the dirty work on his own. When Kong meets the lovely Fon (Persiminee Ratanasopha), he realizes that he has the capacity to love and be loved. Unfortunately for him, a series of events have left our anti-hero on a path that leads to a direct showdown with the mobsters who employed him in the past.
Bangkok Dangerous became a cult hit after debuting in 2000 at the Toronto Film Festival, then making its way through the festival circuit and eventually into theaters. Until the release of Bangkok Dangerous, Thai film had not gotten much attention in the global cinema circuit, and was especially not that well known in the United States. But The Pang Brothers film helped change all of that with this visually exciting movie that, unfortunately, is primarily style over substance. The film is certainly interesting in how it is shot and edited, but the pace tends to drag, and the story becomes needlessly convoluted. The fact that the film has very little dialog and an interesting use of flashbacks to establish character are both nice tricks, but sometimes both make it more convoluted.
Watching Bangkok Dangerous for the first time, after years of hearing about what an incredible film it was, and after having seen other films by the Pang Brothers, was an interesting experience. The film lives up to some of the hype, but it's also a bit of a letdown. The Pang Brothers certainly have a strong visual style, which has become even stronger with each film, but the story in Bangkok Dangerous is far from compelling. The characters serve as little more than props in the lightweight plot, and it is difficult to develop any sort of feelings for them, or believe that they care about each other.
Bangkok Dangerous is not a bad film, but it doesn't live up to the hype surrounding it. It is entertaining for the most part--when it isn't dragging or becoming needlessly convoluted--and it certainly showcases the raw talent of the Pang Brothers. The film is at its best during the action sequences, which are where the Pang Brothers' knack for filmmaking is most evident.