In 1999, a pair of Hong Kong-born twins, Danny and Oxide Pang, made a film called “Bangkok Dangerous,” about a deaf-mute Thai assassin. After the Pangs came to Hollywood, they remade “Bangkok Dangerous,” sticking very close to the original story except that now the deaf-mute Thai assassin is not deaf, mute, or Thai. Still an assassin, though!
And Bangkok? Still quite dangerous. Bangkok is so dangerous, in fact, that the word “is” isn’t needed in the title. “Bangkok Is Dangerous” would short-sell the extreme degree to which Bangkok is dangerous. “Bangkok Dangerous” conveys the point much more directly, and also helps conserve our nation’s dwindling supply of linking verbs.
The hitman who used to be a deaf-mute but is now a hearing-talker is Joe, played by Nicolas Cage. He tells us in voice-over that his life is a lonely one on account of he’s always on the road and it’s hard to meet people “when you live out of a suitcase.” Contributing to his difficulty in making new friends might be the fact that he kills people for a living. But he doesn’t mention this. It’s mostly the living-out-of-a-suitcase thing.
He’s in Bangkok for a month to carry out four hits. Even one night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble, so you can imagine what a month is like. Joe doesn’t like the city, describing it as “corrupt, dirty, and dense” (which, coincidentally, also describes most of Nicolas Cage’s toupees) — and when even cold-blooded murderers find your city unpleasant, it might be time for a new tourism board.
Joe’s employer this time is a local gangster named Surat (Nirattisai Kaljaruek), who no doubt has excellent reasons for needing these four individuals killed. The first thing Joe always does upon arriving in a new city is to hire a local criminal to serve as his messenger boy and go-between. When the mission is finished, Joe kills this person, though he has learned not to mention this fact when he posts the ad on Craigslist. (“Wanted: Self-starter hoodlum to run errands for assassin. Job ends in your death. Pay negotiable.”)
In Bangkok, Joe recruits Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm), who, despite his name, is not a 50-foot ape but a human-sized pickpocket. Kong is eager to perform furtive deeds for a shady American in exchange for inappropriately large sums of money; who wouldn’t be? Since Joe and Surat are never supposed to meet each other — safer for both parties that way — Joe sends Kong to pick up the packages detailing who’s supposed to be killed, where, how, and so forth (e.g., Mr. Pornchardkul, in the pagoda, with the candlestick).
At first everything goes pretty smoothly. We have as our main character a sullen, depressed, unrepentant hitman, one who also kills his hirelings and interns. This is definitely a recipe for success, movie-wise. But the Pangs are not content to rest on their laurels, or on whatever the Thai equivalent of laurels are. To ratchet up the tension, they have Joe fall in love with — wait for it — a deaf-mute Thai girl!
Her name is Fon (Charlie Yeung), and she works at a pharmacy. Joe goes there after he gets a mild scrape on his arm during one of his assassinations. Apparently never having received a mild scrape before, he’s unfamiliar with how one goes about treating such an injury (i.e., Bactine and a Band-Aid), so he shows the cut to Fon and mimes “WHAT DO I DO?!?!” Fon gives him some pills and says to take one every morning and one every night. So either mild scrapes are more serious in Thailand than I had realized, or else Fon is a huckster who knows a rube when she sees one, like the mechanic who says your car needs a new engine when it’s really just out of gas.
Anyway, Joe is enchanted by Fon’s beauty, and Fon is enchanted by whatever it is about Nicolas Cage that a person might be enchanted by, even though she can’t hear or understand him. (This probably helps.) They start dating. Joe doesn’t tell her what he does for a living. He doesn’t tell her much of anything, really. He can’t. This relationship will clearly stand the test of time.
Meanwhile, Joe is impressed by Kong’s ability to follow basic instructions, complete tasks on time, knock biplanes out of the sky with his huge paws, etc. So when Kong, eager to learn a new trade, asks Joe to mentor him in the fine art of murder-for-hire, Joe agrees and takes him on as a pupil. The first thing he teaches him is how to fight. This is probably a surprise to Kong, since Joe has not fought anyone in the movie so far. Kong probably didn’t even know that Joe could fight, let alone that he would consider it Lesson #1 in How to Murder People. Or maybe Joe figures Kong could use some help, since Bangkok dangerous.
More meanwhile, Joe continues to occasionally kill people, one at a time, every few days or so. His murder schedule is very light. Also meanwhile, Surat is getting curious to know who Joe is, and he has goons tail him, and Joe has to kill a couple of them in Fon’s presence. Luckily, Fon’s back is turned at the moment, and of course she can’t hear the gunshots. It’s only when she notices the blood splattered on her shoulder that she turns around and sees Joe holding a smoking gun and standing over two dead bodies. Fon doesn’t seem alarmed that her boyfriend has killed two people; she seems more hurt that he didn’t share this part of his life with her sooner. They will have much to discuss in their next session of bilingual sign-language couples counseling.
Now that Joe has let someone into his cold, black heart, he starts to feel regrets about the occupation he has chosen. This is a surprising and unforeseeable twist. Another surprising and unforeseeable twist is that five seconds after Kong tells Joe that a particular politician is beloved by all the people because he fights crime and poverty, Joe finds out that this very same politician is his next target!!!!!!!!!!!
Let me also add: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The Pang brothers are nothing if not stylish, and “Bangkok Dangerous” is a good-looking movie. It’s vacuous and empty-headed, sure, but so are a lot of good-looking things. John Edwards, for example. What’s perplexing is that it (the movie, not John Edwards) is also kind of boring, which takes a lot of work when the subject is PEOPLE WHO COMMIT MURDER FOR A LIVING. How do you make that come across as dull and ponderous? Ask the Pangs, they’ll tell you. Unless it’s a trade secret. Then they’ll tell you, but they’ll have to kill you. Filmmaking dangerous!