Since Hollywood has done so many knockoffs of Hong Kong movies, surely there’s nothing inherently wrong with a Thai one. And “Bangkok Dangerous,” by the fraternal writing-directing team of Oxide and Danny Pang, certainly gets the look right. Flashy, neon-colored, slickly-cut, featuring the usual quota of slow-mo inserts, filled with ominous gunfights and soft-grained romantic interludes, drenched with gore and boasting a booming bass-heavy soundtrack, it certainly feeds the senses as well as its many models. And the plot–involving a deaf-mute hitman, his wounded best friend, the stripper girlfriend of the latter, the sweet-as-candy drugstore clerk the hero falls for, and the nefarious gang members our protagonists fall afoul of–is the same mixture of macho action, regretful angst, fervid brutality and heart-on-sleeve melodrama that the Hong Kong masters have been dishing out for decades. (The indebtedness to the conventions of the old Hollywood westerns–the young gunslinger, the fallen mentor he must avenge, the dance-hall floozie, the Machiavellian mastermind and his thuggish henchmen, the schoolmarm-like beauty who draws out the hero’s long-suppressed humanity, as well as the one- guy-against-many battles–has never been more apparent.)
The problem with the Pangs’ homage is that unlike, for instance, the classics of John Woo, “Bangkok Dangerous” seems entirely artificial and surface-oriented, a technical exercise above all else. Simply put, it’s the sizzle without the steak, a sleek cinematic body without a heartbeat. It’s a succession of set-pieces, each of them individually impressive but adding up to very little because there’s nothing between them to move us; the final effect is more exhausting than exhilarating, unlike in the best examples of this genre. As the sensitive Kong, our handicapped but hardly disabled killer, for example, Pawalit Mongkolpisit strikes all the proper poses but never comes across as anything but a convenient plot crutch–he’s obviously supposed to be a younger, leaner variant of the sort of iconic figure that Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson played in the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone, the brooding fellow, laconic (here necessarily so) and drained of emotion by the brutality he suffered as a boy (in this case, he became a murderer-for-hire because neighborhood kids picked on him as a kid, as some artsy flashbacks show)–but never manages to become truly affecting. And the characters who surround him are merely cardboard figures. Some of the plot twists, moreover, are risible: after so many people have been offed, for instance, it seems more than a little absurd that an orgy of national mourning would ensue over the killing of–get this–a television executive!
Visually, though, the picture is impressive; the camerawork is often inventive (especially in the many assassination scenes–the homicide rate in Bangkok must be astronomical), the choreographing of some slaughter sequences adept, and the lighting and composition extremely professional. The throbbing score from Orange Music is a definite asset, too, though some will find it deafening. The picture also ends with a bang–one of those over-the-top gestures that the genre is famous for; in this case it’s what one could call the ultimate murder-suicide. If you should go to it, moreover, be sure to get there in time for the opening credits. They’re really cool.