Two films titled “Bangkok Dangerous.” Both directed by the Pang Brothers (Oxide and Danny). The first one was released in 1999, the second in 2008. Both are about assassins and feature a female pharmacist. The likeness ends there.
Highly recommended by the Russians, Joe (Nicolas Cage) is a gun for hire whose success relies upon four concepts: obedience, no friends, no evidence, quit when you peak. Simply put, his only concern is the target’s face — not the reason he’s a target. The less non-work people interact with Joe, the less likely he will be remembered. Of course, he must never leave behind clues. Getting out of the business alive and wealthy is about timing — better sooner than later. Joe informs us of these rules, via voice-over, at the beginning of the film so that we know he’s disciplined. And, so we can anticipate when he is going to break his code of conduct.
“Bangkok Dangerous” opens with Joe completing a job in Prague. The credits run and then he is in Thailand awaiting details on four hits — the last of his career. He hires a pickpocket named Kong (Shakrit Yamnarm) to serve as a messenger between him and the client. If the film’s exposition is an accurate depiction of Joe’s effectiveness in his trade, Kong won’t survive the duration of the mission. Fortunately for him, an encounter with Fon (Hong Kong actress Charlie Young, alternately credited as Charlie Yeung), a deaf pharmacist, and Kong’s promotion from errand boy to pupil more or less guarantees that Bangkok will not unfold as smoothly as Prague.
I didn’t go into the film hoping or assuming it would be ‘good’ or utterly disastrous. My motivation came from a love for Charlie Yeung and plain curiosity. I saw the original years ago and wanted to know how the new film would differ in plot, theme and visual design. The cosmetic and character changes alone bring with them a new set of politics or narrative considerations, which could result in a film that is no better or worse than its predecessor. In the 1999 edition, the assassin’s name is Kong and he is mute. His skills take him to Hong Kong and a world that unfurls into chaos. In 2008, the name “Kong” and the mute condition belong to other characters. That Joe is American and is regarded highly by the Russians comes across as quaint if anything. The existential dilemma of being a perfect assassin remains; it still drives the story.
Between Jason Richman (who wrote the screenplay) and the Pang Brothers and their ideas for how to approach a remake, there was likely a battle of interpretations. How dissimilar should the two “Bangkoks” be? Where the 1999 version wore cinematography and spectacle like a generic Hong Kong triad film (brooding and bloody interchanging throughout), 2008 doles out an attempt at profundity that gives way to bouts of cheesiness and incoherent editing.
When filmmakers participate in the re-telling of their own works, they surely steel themselves against negative reception. Based on the number of stars I give the “Bangkok Dangerous” of the 21st century, my review would be considered negative. I must emphasize, though, that I didn’t hate this film. I didn’t find it to be a waste of time or brain waves. Given the reasons I saw the film, I suppose I’m 50% disappointed.