The Pang brothers, Oxide and Danny, return to the scene—and to some extent the plot—of their 1999 breakout hit with this English-language version of “Bangkok Dangerous,” recast into a far more conventional, far less interesting vehicle for Nicolas Cage. He plays an assassin named Joe who travels to the Thai capital for what he hopes will be his final job, knocking off four targets. Naturally things get complicated when he not only hires a local guy named Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm) as his right-hand guy and grows protective of him, but also becomes interested in a sweet drug-store clerk Fon (Charlie Young). Much mayhem follows, but all the movie proves is that on their home turf the Pangs can make an international hit-man tale every bit as trashy and dull as the ones made in Hollywood or Europe.
The kick in the original picture was that the hero (or antihero, if you prefer), then called Kong (Pawalit Mongkolpisit), was a deaf mute. Cage is apparently unable to stretch himself that far, so instead we get a dreary voice-over from him and the affliction is passed along to the lovely Fon instead. Nic instead contents himself with soulful stares and constipated grimaces as he considers the isolation and lack of human contact his chosen profession has brought him. Oh, he does get to flash a few sheepish smiles and perform an embarrassing bit of shtick over how hot Thai cuisine is when he takes Fon out to dinner. But mostly he’s in gloomy Gus mode, even as he takes on young Kong, whom he at first intends to dispose of after the job’s done (his usual practice), as a student in the art of killing. (The rationale that incessant voice-over offers for this sudden change of heart is that Kong reminds Joe of himself at a young age. You can see that the level of psychological explanation in the script gets pretty deep.)
In any event, apart from Cage’s doe-eyed, stone-faced posturing, and the opportunity for him to take in the Thai sites (parts of the picture are basically a travelogue, and there are plenty of elephants), the raison d’être for this revised “Bangkok Dangerous” is to afford the Pangs the chance to show off their skill at action sequences. The two big set-pieces don’t come until fairly late in the game, and both come across as sloppily choreographed, muddily shot and clumsily edited. The first is a boat chase through some urban canals that’s not even as successful as the one in Tony Jaa’s “The Protector,” let alone similar fare in James Bond pictures galore. Then there’s the big finale, in which Joe eliminates some fellows assigned to kill him and then puts himself at risk to wipe out an army of his client’s goons in order to rescue Kong and the kid’s girlfriend, dancer Aom (Panward Hemmanee) from their evil clutches. It’s a very long, very poorly organized sequence, with cinematography (by Decha Srimantra) that’s often so murky that it’s difficult to discern what’s going on. It also features much entirely gratuitous gore (like a body literally blown to pieces by a grenade) that’s remarkably ugly, even in the poor lighting.
The raucous score by Brian Tyler is of a piece with the garish visuals, which is hardly a compliment.
The 1999 Thai-language version of “Bangkok Dangerous” wasn’t a great movie, but it was an intriguing one that put some quirks in the formula, and it certainly showed promise in the Pangs’ often virtuoso work. By contrast this remake is drab and commonplace. It doesn’t even have the smarts to repeat the icily unsettling titles of the original. In the final analysis it’s simply a regurgitation of innumerable hit-men movies that have come before, with nothing but the exoticism of the locale going for it. And that’s certainly not enough.