Bangkok Dangerous opens with a sequence that feels like the introductory sequence to a video game (I’m thinking of something like Metal Gear Solid); we have a shadowy assassin in a heightened position fix a silencer to a sniper rifle and then take a kill-shot to a prisoner who is being questioned in an interrogation room with a large open window. All the while we hear the assassin, Joe played by Nicholas Cage, narrate everything on the voice-over with such soulful lines as “My job takes me to a lot of places... I work alone, I sleep alone.” Then he outlines the Four Rules to his line of work, which involves such standard hitman guidelines as Don’t Ask Questions and Erase Every Trace and Disconnect From Everyone. Anyone who has seen The Professional or any of the other thousand movies about lonely professional hitmen will know immediately where this film is going just from the first five minutes. Yes, Cage’s next job takes him to Bangkok where he will engage in some righteous kills while undergoing the heartwarming transformation that arises from Letting People In and Engaging In Human Contact and Friendship and Love and All Things Nice.
Cage is pumping out the crummy movies like a deluxe Reflex photocopier. Bangkok Dangerous is different though in that Cage is surprisingly restrained after memorable nutszoid performances in recent fare like Ghost Rider, Next and The Wicker Man remake. My friend, Cowgill, theorised that it was possibly because his character was a stranger in a strange land and Cage’s usual tendency to be a ham that alienates everyone around him was shackled by the fact that he was the one who was alienated by the glitzy sleaze of Bangkok (“If you want to find garbage, go to the garbage dump,” he narrates as he stands amidst the red-light district in a line of cultural sensitivity). It’s a languid, airless movie that slogs along with Cage mining his Trademark Intense Expression for everything that it is worth until the movie picks up when he becomes friends with Kong, a petty thief who he hires to help him with his assassinations, leading to a Karate Kid styled montage where he teaches Kong everything there is about killing a man (“You don’t pull the trigger, you squeeze the trigger...” etc). The second act takes a turn for the romantic (“The stuff for the chicks,” my other friend Seymour suggested) where a wounded Cage walks into a pharmacy and meets a pretty deaf mute female pharmacist who helps him in five minute wordless scene that I’m sure the filmmakers thought was pure Chaplinesque poetry. It’s here where Cage discovers Another Facial Expression and begins to smile and make puppy dog eyes at this love interest who is half his age. Basically from here on in Bangkok Dangerous turns into Lost In Translation but with gunplay.
Bangkok Dangerous is a remake of a Thailand film where the hitman was the deaf mute, which is an original touch that this version dispenses with. Both versions were directed by the Pang Brothers and they go for sub-par Michael Mann vision of Bangkok with flashes of John Woo mayhem including a two-gun shoot-out across a room filled with water bottles and a death scene where a henchmen who is cut in half by a hand grenade. The highlight of the film is an over the top sequence where Cage tracks one of his targets on thin boats down a river district that turns into a breakneck chase where the target gets wind of the attempt on his life and hightails it down the river while Cage jumps onto the street that runs along the river, steals a motorbike, rides after the villain on his jet-boat, jumps off the bike so that it runs into a gas tank and explodes, lands on the boat, uses the motor on the boat’s engine to sever the villian’s hand as he points a gun at Cage, and then Cage picks up the gun and puts four bullets through the dude. All the while, Cage is wearing a Hawaiian shirt, a fedora hat and Elvis shades, sort of a quasi Hunter S Thompson look that he really should have stuck to throughout the rest of the film.
In the end, Cage sort of sleepwalks through the film and there isn’t much to distinguish it from the thousand of other films about professional hitmen who find love and redemption in the Last Job. We're a long way from the 'heights' of The Rock and Con Air in regards to the Nic Cage Action Movie ouvre...