Film Reviews

All Thai'd Up

Bangkok Dangerous, by twin brothers Danny and Oxide Pang, is an aggressively commercial genre piece that, like some recent Korean releases, has been clearly influenced by the Asian gangster genre once dominated by the now-ailing Hong Kong industry. And if the Pang brothers' goal is to demonstrate to the world the technical sophistication of Thai talent, they have succeeded (Danny worked for years in Hong Kong as an editor on such major productions as Storm Riders and A Man Called Hero). Bangkok Dangerous feels at times like a portfolio of flashy techniques: The filmmakers use slow motion, step-printing, jump cuts, different varieties of film stock, a frequently impressionistic soundtrack, freeze-frames, ghostly double exposures, time-lapse photography and editing that sometimes feel like cinematic hip-hop.

Still, no matter how nice it is to see films using a broad range of arrows from the medium's quiver of expressive devices, the Pangs manage to overuse all these things. So determined is Bangkok Dangerous to burn itself onto our retinas that its narrative--which, at heart, is a simple example of the "sentimental hit man" genre that stretches from High Sierra to John Woo's The Killer--is often difficult to follow. Woo's influence is obvious--one sequence seems consciously modeled after the most famous scene in A Better Tomorrow--but the Pangs lack Woo's sense of moderation, edging into Michael Bay turf at times.

The film's protagonist is Kong (Pawalit Mongkolpisit), a blithely effective hit man who embodies the gangster's code of silence: He is a deaf-mute. We learn through a series of flashbacks--much of it presented in scratchy, grainy footage to suggest home movies--that his condition made him an outcast in childhood. But one day at a firing range, his loyal friend Joe (Pisek Intrakanchit) accidentally discovers Kong's sharpshooter potential. Kong has an advantage over the other shooters because he doesn't flinch or react to the sound. Joe, himself a hit man, trains Kong and introduces him to the business.

Joe's girlfriend Aom (Patharawarin Timkul), apparently a hostess in a strip joint, also works for the mob boss, delivering assignments to Joe and Kong. The three of them are all close; Kong is too sexually naïve and too faithful to Joe for there to be any romantic tension. But when Joe injures his shooting hand, he breaks up with Aom and deteriorates into depression and sloth. Aom and Kong try to cheer him up, to no avail.

In between hits, Kong begins to fall in love with Fon (Premsinee Ratanasopha), a sweet young woman who works in a pharmacy. But he can't bring himself to tell her what he does for a living. In the ramifications of Kong and Fon's incipient relationship and Joe and Aom's disintegrating one are the elements that will drive the characters toward a tragic conclusion.

There is something assaultive about the relentlessness of Bangkok Dangerous, despite the sweeter interludes involving Fon and Kong, and even about certain gimmicks. At one point, the Pangs' sound design includes a loud, high-pitched whine so grating it could probably make some people physically ill. Bangkok Dangerous may display an energetic and promising talent, but it is also uncomfortably close to being a 105-minute music video, with all the problems that suggests.