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Arts & Culture

Bangkok Dangerous

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The Pang Brothers burst on the Asian film scene with Bangkok Dangerous (1999) and The Eye (2002, which has also been remade in the U.S.). Both films revealed a stylish flair for action and atmosphere. Bangkok Dangerous was particularly impressive for its lyrical form in which a deaf mute hit man falls in love with a young woman, and most of the film played out in silence. It was a music video feature and it dripped with audacious, over the top style. The film lacked a conventional plot but held you rapt with its lush images and bold colors.

Bangkok Dangerous is the Pang Brothers remake of their 1999 film (Lionsgate)

In remaking their debut feature, the Pangs now have considerably more money but are laden with the demands of a Hollywood narrative that brings down the weight of convention on their free spirit. Their previous American effort - The Messengers - allowed them momentary cinematic flourishes but fell well short of anything they've done in Asia. But both of these American films have asked the Pangs to work within American formulas rather than allowing them the freedom to work within a less restrictive format.

For this new version of Bangkok Dangerous , Nicolas Cage plays Joe, a hit man currently awaiting a quartet of assignments in Thailand. (In the original film, it was actually a pair of hit men and their girlfriends that the film followed.) In a chatty voiceover narration, Joe informs us of all the things we expect from a man in his position. He trusts no one. He doesn't want to know anything about his victims. He doesn't want to get involved with anyone outside work. And he's meticulous about not leaving any clues behind. But then he hires a young local named Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm) and abruptly takes him on as a kind of student. Then he falls for a deaf pharmacist (Charlie Young). He keeps breaking his rules and not for very convincing reasons. I will commend screenwriter Jason Richman for at least trying to give a twist to the original plot by making the girl deaf but the dynamics of that relationship are never really convincing despite a lovely performance by Young.

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Charlie Young in Bangkok Dangerous (Lionsgate)

Bangkok Dangerous (rated R for violence, language and some sexuality) never revs up to the high-octane level of the Pangs' Asian films. It serves up all formula and convention whereas the original film felt like a free spirit exploding whatever expectation you might bring to the genre. Plus the original film's ending packed an emotional wallop that the new film can't touch.

Companion viewing: Bangkok Dangerous (1999), The Eye (2002), The Matador, Face/Off

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