Heavy on the spice and cheap on the meat, “Bangkok Dangerous” adds plenty of Thai seasoning to the Hollywood lone-assassin recipe, but the result is only mildly pungent. Rehashing certain elements — including striking location shooting — that marked their much grittier 1999 feature of the same title, Hong Kong’s Pang brothers increase the decibel level of the gunshots and the schmaltz level of the scenario, but such embellishments, not to mention a Nicolas Cage doused with Clairol, make this hefty remake seem less dangerous than incongruous. Low September B.O. body count should be surpassed by acceptable ancillary returns.
Twins Danny and Oxide Pang made their dual-directorial debut with the Thai-language version of “Bangkok Dangerous,” whose effective lowlife atmosphere and wide-ranging stylistic palette propelled them onto the international scene. They followed with the original 2002 “The Eye” and its two local sequels before debuting Stateside with last year’s moody horror tale “The Messengers.”
Working here with a script by Jason Richman (“Swing Vote”), the helmers reshape their rough, Bangkok underworld-set story into a cleaner tourist’s take on crime and corruption. Yet without the technical nastiness and fatal realism that made the initial film so compelling, the remake feels like a hollow excuse to present the myriad ways in which a bullet can pierce a cranium, rather than an edgy portrait of Third World violence.
As in the original, pic follows the gloomy itinerary of solitary gun-for-hire Joe (Cage), who, in the opening scene, takes out a high-profile target in Prague, then coldly eliminates his assistant via lethal injection. With no hints as to what exactly pushed Joe into such a dirty business, we’re left to work with the few personal guidelines he repeats in a voiceover, used sparingly throughout.
Arriving in Bangkok to execute four contracts he hopes to be his last, Joe quickly finds himself immersed in the city’s “corrupt, dirty and dense” lifestyle, which the filmmakers effectively (albeit hastily) render through neon-lit street shots and strobing nightclub scenes. Hiring local henchman Kong (Thai actor Shahkrit Yamnarm, who delivers the film’s most endearing turn) to serve as a middleman, he successfully knocks off the first three targets in more or less professional fashion.
Exterior-based assassination sequences, highlighted by a lengthy boat chase set inside a picturesque floating market, make the first half easier to digest. But Joe’s sudden and unexplained character change midway through, marked by his growing teacher-student relationship with Kong and his altogether platonic affair with an attractive pharmacist (H.K. pop singer and “New Police Story” star Charlie Young), is never fully fleshed out, and adds little resonance to the multiple killings that follow.
Lively Bangkok locales offer up a colorful urban portrait that winds up being much more complex than the script’s underdeveloped characters. Working with usual cinematographer Decha Srimantra (who lensed their three “Eye” productions) and production designer James Newport (“Brokedown Palace”), the Pangs manage to bring back some of the exotic grit of the first film, although the imagery here is more postcard-like.
Cage gives a mostly laconic perf, yet at times can’t seem to hide his joy at shooting in so many cool locations, which adds a befitting sense of wonder to his humdrum persona. Co-stars Young and Yamnarm are both solid actors who unfortunately disappear in the film’s final stages.
Kinetic score by Brian Tyler is mixed with several cheesy pop tunes played at a racy Bangkok dance club, which, in this U.S.-friendly version, features only scantily clad, but no nude, entertainment.