Sunday, September 7, 2008

Hong Kong (influenced) Phooey: TIC vs. Bangkok Dangerous!

So, you're Danny and Oxide Pang. You've got a shot at making a Hollywood remake of your debut hit, Bangkok Dangerous. How do you do it without subverting your original vision?

Simple: F!#k the original vision! This lumbering, hollow re-vamp takes the Pangs' original and goes anti-Dragnet with it: the names are the same, but the story is completely changed, and plays out like a $2 plate of John Woo soup.

In this version, hitman Joe (Nicolas Cage) ventures to Bangkok for a series of kills he hopes will propel him into retirement. Joe has a loosely-defined moral code, but no identifiable personality; he's your typical Byronic cipher, the Lonely Man doing One Last Job. The Pangs and co-writer Jason Richman wisely play up his outsider status in Thailand -- he doesn't speak the language, and the local cuisine kicks his ass worse than any opponent -- and Cage gets to use his patented tics and nervous glances to express that. What the material doesn't give him is the ways to make you care about the character as one did for, say, Jean Reno's Leon or even John Cusack's Martin Blank.

The problem, of course, is that the original wasn't about Joe at all. It covered -- with more visual vigor and identifiable emotion -- the rise of Kong, a deaf gunman who was tutored by a veteran. Here, the Kong character (Shahkrit Yamnarm, slumming it) is nothing more than Cage's Rochester ("You got it, boss!") and a convenient hostage during the film's third act.

When not teaching Kong martial arts or the Art of Killing, Joe tries to make time with pharmacist Fon (Charlie Yeung), who takes over the deaf/mute character slot while guiding him through the "non-corrupt" parts of town, including, of course, a temple. So, she's pretty, spiritual, has a good job, "exotic" and doesn't speak a lick. Does she have a sister?

Inevitably, Joe starts slippin' on his business as his personal life blossoms, culminating in the Job being botched and his having to go on rescue Kong. But you'll be wishing you spent the rental money on the original long before that. Strong recommendation to avoid this dyspeptic, disjointed, dreary mess of an import.

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