“Bangkok Dangerous” (1999) – A.J. Hakari

Filmmaking siblings Danny and Oxide Pang have had one of the more varied careers in recent cinema. Whether working together or by themselves, their work has either been as terrific as the original, much creepier version of The Eye or as boring as their godawful American outing, The Messengers. But their road to international prominence began with the Thailand-based crime drama Bangkok Dangerous. A slick-looking, Pang-directed remake is on its way, but the original is packed to the gills with grittiness, beefing up a so-so story with plenty of visual flavor and setting a dark, memorable tone you won’t soon forget.

Like most killers in the movies, deaf-mute Kong (Pawalit Mongkolpisit) lives a pretty lonely life. His only friend is his partner, Joe (Pisek Intrakanchit), both of whom receive their assignments from go-go dancer Aom (Pathawarin Timkul) and carry them out with deadly efficiency. But with Joe currently out of commission, Kong finds his crackshot skills being called upon to do in numerous targets without mercy. After returning home from a job in Hong Kong, Kong has a chance meeting with Fon (Premsinee Ratanasopha), a pretty pharmacy clerk who, slowly but surely, takes a liking to our wounded anti-hero. However, there’s still the matter of his true occupation, which will definitely cause some tension in the pair’s burgeoning relationship, while Joe finds his own loyalty to the job being tested after Aom comes under attack by their own employer’s henchmen.

Some will look at Bangkok Dangerous and say that it looks too grimy, much too dark of a film to live up to all of the critic quotes dotting its DVD cover. While I’ll be the first to admit that the film doesn’t look that fantastic compared to other crime pictures, I still say that it does the story’s atmosphere quite a service. Bangkok Dangerous isn’t a thrill-a-minute action film that glorifies the world of hitmen and assassins; rather, it’s more along the lines of a tragedy, focusing on the chilling transformation from a troubled youth into a cold-blooded murderer. In flashback sequences, Kong is shown to have imagined the faces of those who teased and taunted him as a means to improve his accuracy with a gun, but the Pang Brothers wisely don’t let this be the end of his story. In fact, the latter part of the film revolves around what happens when the previously ambivalent Kong realizes the consequences of his actions, when he’s hit by the fact that all those he killed without question had families of their own. These thematics are handled quite nicely by the Pangs, never feeling too obvious or too condescendingly presented to enjoy.

Considering he never speaks a word throughout the entire film, Mongkolpisit does an impressive job of relaying Kong’s emotions and inner turmoil without turning him into a walking cliche. He gets the look of the loner down pat while reminding viewers that the character still has a soul, that, despite his job, he’s still a figure worth sympathizing with. Unfortunately, so much of the picture revolves around Kong, the other actors are saddled with the pretty thankless job of padding out the running time. Intrakanchit mostly mumbles and stumbles his way through playing Joe, a part that comes to outgrow its usefulness to the story. The whole subplot involving his revenge against Aom’s attackers serves next to no purpose, and for as overall an impact as they had on the plot, Aom and Fon could’ve been smoothly melded into one character. Plus, while the Pangs set the right tone for the story (incorporating security camera footage into a cool opening scene), some of their visual tricks are a little distracting (the needless freeze-framing, in particular).

While Bangkok Dangerous may not be a terribly flashy affair with the most consistent action, it still finds ways to work other than how viewers might expect it to. With its mind not centered on spraying bullets across the screen, the film finds the time to explore its story a little more deeply, which is more than I can say for all the Hitmans the world can throw at me.

Rating: ★★★☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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