One debate among film critics is whether it's necessary to know the original version to appreciate an adaptation or remake. Aside from those deeply immersed in Asian action cinema, most average filmgoers won't care if the new Bangkok Dangerous is true to the 1999 original from Thailand of the same name. They just want to know if it's an exciting Nicolas Cage action flick.

It's not.

Nicolas Cage as Joe

Nicolas Cage as Joe

The problems begin with a key difference between the two films, both directed by The Pang Brothers. The original (which I've not seen) centered on a deaf-mute assassin named Kong—emotionally detached from the world because of his condition and uniquely skilled since he can't be distracted by sound. However, Kong gradually learns to appreciate life after building some meaningful relationships during his latest assignment, causing him to rethink his priorities when those friendships are threatened by his employers.

Now you'd think an American remake might keep its focus on the one quality that makes this story unique: the deaf-mute anti-hero. Thinking of movies like There Will Be Blood and Cast Away, it seems like this would be an interesting opportunity for a talented director and leading actor to similarly tell a story with minimal dialogue—in an action film, no less. Instead, the Pangs downplay the key plot point in their remake; only the character names and the general outline remain the same.

Joe meets with Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm)

Joe meets with Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm)

Here the assassin is Joe (Cage), who is not a deaf-mute, but still very much cold and detached (maybe because he's borrowing the same bad hair sported by Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code). Beginning the movie with the same weary narration that Cage uses in so many of his other films, we learn that this experienced killer is ready to retire, looking for one last assignment before calling it quits—familiar, no?

That assignment involves four hits in Bangkok for a crime boss named Surat. In the process, Joe hires a street hustler named Kong, whom he uses as a go-between with Surat, intending to dispose of him when the job is finished. Instead, he forms a bond with Kong because he reminds Joe of himself—the similarities are lost on the audience. Master mentors apprentice in matters of marksmanship and espionage. During his stay, Joe also meets a pretty pharmacist named Fon, who happens to be a deaf-mute, and the budding romance causes the killer to further rethink his life. The only complication is whether he can truly escape his profession and experience a change of heart without endangering his friends.

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Charlie Yeung as Fon

Charlie Yeung as Fon

Though there's still potential for an interesting relationship, the deaf-mute angle is more tangential in this movie, and not all that interesting. In fact, it plays second banana to the relationship between Joe and Kong, and neither storyline sufficiently explains why such a cold, uncaring character would want to change his ways. Is it kinship with Kong? The potential romance with Fon? The seedy Bangkok atmosphere? The elephant he feeds in the marketplace? Who knows?

Don't blame Cage. He can play blank and detached very well, and he's got a certain charm that makes you want to root for him. But the character is poorly developed. I mean, here's a guy who's lecturing us from the start about the importance of keeping a low profile as an assassin, yet he's regularly giving Kong shooting lessons outside his home. Perhaps the fact that he still doesn't attract attention says something about Thailand and why Joe is drawn to it?

Other story details make just as little sense. By the time Joe gets his fourth assignment, we've already guessed who the target will be and how he'll respond to it. With that, the crime boss changes his mind concerning his contract with Joe—a very silly line of reasoning that suggests he never really thought the assassinations through. This is the sort of story that requires intrigue and double-crosses to carry us through, not predictable and/or implausible plot details.

One character who's NOT on Joe's hit list

One character who's NOT on Joe's hit list

The visual style of this Bangkok Dangerous doesn't help either. There are some occasionally inventive touches to the Pang Brothers' style—camera angles, transition shots, things like that. But it's all filmed with a dark and grainy washed-out look that sometimes makes things hard to see. This is an ugly movie to look at that does nothing for Thailand's tourism (and again, does little to explain why Cage's character is so drawn to the city).

But the biggest problem is that this action movie has so little action. The fact that there are four targets for Joe to go after gives you some idea of how many total action scenes there are—and a few of them happen very quickly. Those scenes are somewhat compelling, but also rather ludicrous considering how much they rely on perfect timing. A key scene involves a boat chase designed to get the heart rate up, but it's poorly edited and at times amateur looking. And the finale involves a lot of gunplay in the dark, favoring style over substance, like unloading clips into bottles of water just to see it splash all over the place.

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If none of that deters you, perhaps the disappointing ending will make you feel like it was a waste of time. It's not so much that the movie tells a predictable story or that it lacks visual flair. But it's plodding, it lacks excitement, and it's just not very entertaining. There are simply other, better movies similar to this, including the 1999 film, so I'm told—though I can't say this version makes me want to see the original. Seems The Pang Brothers have tarnished their past success with an inferior remake, because they've really shot themselves in the foot with this one.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. What do you make of Joe's rules as a killer early on? Are they logical precautions for his line of work? What about his statements that there's no such thing as right and wrong, or no such thing as trust? Do they reflect his profession, or a character defect? Does he change his position by the end of the movie?
  2. What's the significance of Joe's watch and the way he keeps track of time? What about the syringe that he always has on hand? Do these things hold the same meaning for him by the end of the film?
  3. Why does Joe experience a change of heart? What attracts him to Bangkok—the city or its people? Do you think he would retire there if he could? Is it really possible for someone like him to settle down and leave his profession behind? Why or why not?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Bangkok Dangerous is rated R for violence, language, and some sexuality. There are a number of shootings and beatings, though the blood and gore is usually kept to a minimum—the two exceptions involve a severed hand and a body blown in half. The language is infrequent, but strong, including the f-bomb. A brief sex scene occurs mostly in shadow with some topless nudity. Due to the setting and nature of the story, prostitution and drug use play a part in the backdrop. Characters are also seen praying in a Buddhist temple in one scene.

What other Christian critics are saying:

Bangkok Dangerous
Our Rating
1½ Stars - Weak
Average Rating
(not rated yet)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
R (for violence, language, and some sexuality)
Directed By
Danny Pang, Oxide Chun Pang
Run Time
1 hour 39 minutes
Nicolas Cage, Charlie Yeung, Shahkrit Yamnarm
Theatre Release
September 05, 2008 by Lionsgate
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