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Monday, September 08, 2008

Bangkok Dangerous

Nicolas Cage owes me one. Actually, he owes me a few, but I’m a forgiving type, mostly because I can’t help but like a guy who is weird enough to name his baby Kal-El, Superman’s Kryptonian birth name. Oh, you just know this is going to lead to some messed up teen years and lots of therapy in the Cage household. Kal-El Cage. I suppose he’ll go by Kal, but since his father is famous it isn’t a secret he’ll be able to keep from his school mates no matter how ritzy and upper-crust the establishment. You just know the little bastards will be painting rocks green and chucking them at poor Kal-El wanting to see if their “kryptonite” will kill him. I know I would, just because I’ve always wanted to piss off a really rich guy, and after sitting through Ghost Rider, I can’t think of a better guy to annoy than Nicolas Cage, even if it means his innocent son gets a slight concussion along the way. I mean, I’d only use a small rock. I’m not heartless in spite of what you may think.

I think I’m practically a saint actually when it comes to Nicolas Cage. I am one of the handfuls of people in the world who actually liked The Wicker Man, and I’ve tolerated his lackluster performances in Captain Corelli's Mandolin and Next, even ignoring his mysterious hair plugs or weave or whatever that thing is on top of his head no matter how distracting it can sometimes be. Fortunately, in his latest release, his hair seems to have been beaten into submission for once, and it allows for the viewer to concentrate exclusively on the movie itself,
Bangkok Dangerous. Thankfully, Bangkok Dangerous is worth the concentration.
It is finally a film worthy of Cage’s talents as an actor. Oh yes, Punkins, I do believe he is a good actor. He just makes wretched choices based on his own odd or childish whims, which rarely translate into good or widely appreciated movies. This could be the exception.

Bangkok Dangerous, Cage plays an assassin-for-hire known only as Joe who comes to Bangkok to complete what he believes will be his last four hits before his planned retirement. The man who hired him for these jobs is a less than stellar character named Surat (debuting Nirattisai Kaljaruek), who seems to have more money and goons on his payroll than the Bush Administration. It makes you sort of ponder why he felt the need to import a foreigner to do his dirty work in these particular cases when there is obviously lots of “local talent” available. Joe himself picks up a go-to assistant named Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm; Cris-ka-ja baa sut sut) right off the street who expresses a deep-felt desire to learn the trade and follow in Joe’s footsteps. Apparently men in Thailand have nothing to do but kill one another and hang out in strip clubs.

Yep, there’s a lot of that going on too. This part actually looks like fun. The stage is filled with a couple of dozen of hot babes all dressed alike and performing to the same choreography in sync. In other words, it looks like the R rated Siamese version of “Deal or No Deal.” Joe’s contact between himself and Surat is one of the dancers at the club, Aom (Panward Hemmanee; Hor taew tak), and while Joe doesn’t really “soil” himself by going into such an establishment himself, Kong turns it into a second home and falls head over throbbing pylon of manhood in love with Aom. I’m sorry, but all I could think of was the old line “Five dollar, me love you long time.”

Well, forget all the shoot ‘em up happiness times ten that ensues, along with the kung fu (or some kind of martial arts), the motorcycle hijinks, crosses and double-crosses that
Bangkok Dangerous offers, and there’s plenty of all these, but my favorite absurdity centers around the seemingly nonsensical affair of the heart that Joe develops for Fon, a deaf pharmacy clerk played by Charlie Yeung (Ashes of Time Redux). What the heck is this about? The first thing Joe tells us in the prologue of the movie is to never get involved with people, and here he is falling hard (so to speak) for this very YOUNG woman who is clueless about his life and who can’t even speak. She just smiles a lot and opens her eyes wider when he talks to her, making herself look like a pretty little puppy. I’ll bet if he threw her a stick she’d run right after it. Amazingly though, she seems able to lip read English perfectly even though she can’t speak her native Thai. I found myself wondering what the odds would be of a Thai person walking into a random pharmacy in New York and happen upon a deaf American-born clerk who just happens to fluently lip read and understand Thai.

Okay, so if you can maybe ignore this tiny bit of fantasy, then you can certainly buy the bigger story and you’ll have a terrific time because this is an action-packed thriller which only falters by the sleepy-time slowdowns caused by Joe and Fon’s scenes together. Frankly, they are just no Fon together. Okay, okay. I apologize. Well, anyway, we get it. She is the reason Joe is going soft in the head and heart, but she is also dragging the pace down and co-directors, twin brothers Oxide Pang Chun (The Messengers) and Danny Pang (Gwai wik) could just as well have jettisoned Fon in the drink with a few of the hoods Joe is battling and she wouldn’t have been missed.

In case you didn’t know,
Bangkok Dangerous is a remake of a 1999 Thai film of the same name made by the same writers and directors, those lovable Pang Brothers. In the original though, it was Kong who was a deaf mute and the center of the story, so the movie is significantly different. Fon still works in a drug store, but she can run her mouth like a telephone operator on crack. I imagine it would look to many a great deal like what the Nazis might have done had they had the chance to reinterpret Mel Brooks’ The Producers, especially the big musical number “Springtime for Hitler.” One Bangkok Dangerous is not like the other. Obviously, Nicolas Cage couldn’t bring himself to make a movie where he didn’t say anything. He’s a good actor; he’s not that great an actor.

Perhaps Cage should start looking at other films he can remake. He does have ten (!) projects in development already, so it’s not like he’s not going to be standing on line at the food stamps office any time soon, but he’d be perfect as Stan Laurel updating all of the classic Laurel & Hardy films. He could also play HAL 9000 in a new version of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which would obviously need to be moved further into the future; he’s got the perfect put-me-to-sleep voice for the part of the malicious computer. And my perfect role for Mr. Cage? I think he should play the main character in Chia Pet: The Motion Picture. He has the perfect hair for the part. I’m just sayin’.

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