Dang Bireley’s and Young Gangsters

Thailand's highest-grossing homemade hit is a slick, highly commercial take on youth gangs in the 1950s and early '60s. Tech values are uniformly glossy, and there are a few memorable set pieces (usually with bullets flying), but pic covers ground so familiar to Western auds that there's not much chance of it attracting offshore interest, even in fest settings.

Thailand’s highest-grossing homemade hit is a slick, highly commercial take on youth gangs in the 1950s and early ’60s. Tech values are uniformly glossy, and there are a few memorable set pieces (usually with bullets flying), but pic covers ground so familiar to Western auds that there’s not much chance of it attracting offshore interest, even in fest settings.

Helmer Nonzee Nimibutr comes from a TV-ad and musicvid background, and it shows in the slo-mo gun blasts, hyped-up close-ups and choreographed crowd scenes that pepper this routine urban actioner, based on the ostensibly true tale of high school pals who grow up to be bitter enemies.

Jesdaporn Pholdee has the requisite charisma as tough young Dang, nicknamed for the Orange soda he favors (not that this explains the title entirely). Raised in poverty, Dang gets a rep early on, defending his prostitute mom from thugs, and later he runs the show at the local polytechnic. His loyal cohort Piak cautions him about potential treachery from their classmates Lam, Dum and the always-preening Pu Bottle Bomb (shouldn’t that name be warning enough?), but it’s not until they’re kicked out of school and running various rackets that their incipient rivalry boils into outright warfare.

The sad saga of Dang and his hangdog gang-bangers will be very familiar to Westerners, right down to the greased-back hair, Elvis records and James Dean posters. Helmer, while trying to be a Southeast Asian Scorsese, does surprisingly little to put a specifically Thai twist on things, except in pic’s implicit criticism of government and business corruption.

Another intriguing element — Dang’s mom pushing him to be ordained as a Buddhist monk — is used more for its pictorial potential, leading up to a bloody climax, than for any genuine soul-searching. The pic is also saddled with iffy acting, especially on the distaff side, and the usual fractured subtitles (“I’ll get more helper soonest,” says one confident boss).

Dang Bireley's and Young Gangsters

(THAI)

Production: A Tai Entertainment (Bangkok) production. Produced by Yisute Poolvoralaks. Directed by Nonzee Nimibutr. Screenplay, Wisid Sarsanatiang, based on a story by Suriyan Saktaisong.

Crew: Camera (color), Winai Patomboon; editor, Sunit Ussavinkul; production design, Ek Eiamchurn; music, Orange Music; art direction, Ake Aiamcheen; costumes, Bunluesak Hirunratana; sound, Ramintra Sound Studio. Reviewed at Vancouver Film Festival (competing), Oct. 6, 1997. (Also in London Film Festival.) Running time: 110 MIN.

With: With: Jesdaporn Pholdee, Noppachai Muttaweevong, Attaporn Teemakorn, Suppakorn Kitsuwan, Chatchai Ngarmsun, Apichart Choosakul, Champaign X.

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