With the recent North American release of their Hong Kong horror hit "The Eye (Jian gui)" and Tom Cruise having picked up its remake rights, identical-twin filmmakers the Pang Brothers are certainly on the 'it' list these days. However, long before they put the teeth back into 'seeing dead people', the Danny and Oxide Pang turned heads with their 1999 homage to the 'hired killer' genre with "Bangkok Dangerous". And though it has been criticized for being derivative of other Hong Kong crime-actioners, the Pang's demonstrate a well-versed understanding of genre, a gift for creating striking visuals, and an appreciation for how a good soundtrack can shape the mood of a film-- qualities that they would end up refining and mastering in "The Eye".
If you have more than a passing familiarity with the genre (particularly John Woo's "The Killer"), then little of what happens in "Bangkok Dangerous" is of surprise. The killer-for-hire in "Bangkok Dangerous" is a deaf mute named Kong (Pawalit Mongkolpisit), who carries on the business of 'murders and executions' that his mentor and roommate Jo (Pisek Intrakanchit) started but had to retire from after a hand injury (Chu Kong take note!). The deaf mute killer receives the targets and times inside a Bangkok strip club from Aom (Patharawarin Timkul, who appeared alongside Christy Chung in "Jan Dara"), who also happens to be Jo's ex-girlfriend. Kong then methodically goes out and executes the hit, such as a rooftop sniping as a child watches on, or a trip to Hong Kong for a job at a restaurant that looks similar to the one seen at the end of Wong Kar-wai's "Fallen Angels (Duo luo tian shi)".
As expected with this type of film, the gun-for-hire is offered a shot at redemption, which typically results in him taking that one last 'hatchet job' before he quits the business for good. In the case of Kong, it is a pretty pharmacist named Fon (Premsinee Ratanasopha) whom he becomes enamored with after she helps him get over a cold. Despite Kong's inability to hear or speak, Fon reciprocates his interest and the seed of a relationship is formed. Unfortunately, as the assassin-apothecary relationship grows deeper, Fon gets closer to learning what her new beau really does for a living (one of the more interesting scenes has Kong on the edge of his seat as Fon tries to guess his occupation). Alas, as in every other hired-killer film, the hope for redemption dims when Kong ends up being betrayed by the very people who hired him.
From the opening frame, where a security camera capturing a washroom execution literally bleeds into an inventive display of the opening credits, the technically proficient style of the Pang Brothers' direction grabs you with its endless zeal. Multiple filters and film stocks are used to great effect, particularly during the film's numerous flashbacks (such as a scratchy 16mm glimpse at Kong's miserable childhood), putting even multimedia junkies like Oliver Stone ("Any Given Sunday") to shame. Lenser Decha Srimantra seems to be a big fan of Wong Kar-wai, as he jettisons the tripod and gives the film the same chaotic and washed-out look of "Fallen Angels". Adding to the many visual flourishes is the catchy and often pulse-pounding soundtrack, which fits the film's mood perfectly.
And even though a number of the set pieces are obviously inspired by well-known Hong Kong actioners, the Pangs' are able to put a fresh spin on such retread material. For example, a revenge killing in a restaurant in the final act seems to have been lifted right out of "A Better Tomorrow (Yinghung bunsik)", though some judicious editing and imagery takes the scene to another level. The film also has the typical final shootout in a large building (in this case, a competently choreographed warehouse dustup) that is capped off by a terrific standoff between Kong and the police. As they face each other in the rain, the film speed slows down enough for the audience to see the raindrops as perfect spheres that gently float to the ground-- an effect that is both eloquent and mesmerizing.
Cast-wise, the assembled actors pull off their parts without a fumble. Despite his unsavory profession, Mongkolpisit has a likable turn as Kong, and even though his change-of-heart is somewhat hackneyed, you still end up rooting for him. The eye-catching Ratanasopha is fine as the love interest, and she even manages to elicit a little chemistry with Mongkolpisit. Finally, Intrakanchit and Timkul actually end up providing the film with much of its emotional weight as another pair of star-crossed lovers.
"Bangkok Dangerous" developed a bit of a following after its initial release in 1999, which included the Pangs winning the International Critics Award at the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival. And thanks to the runaway success of "The Eye" and the newfound cachet of its co-directors, "Bangkok Dangerous" is enjoying a resurgence in popularity courtesy of new VCD and DVD releases. With a strong first effort like "Bangkok Dangerous" and a superb sophomore offering in "The Eye", the Pang Brothers are certainly on their way to bigger and better things.