Before Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang made a name for themselves as horror directors, they were already on the radar of adventurous action fans. Bangkok Dangerous is a little cult film that kickstarted the Pangs' international career, a film that made heads turn and put them on the map. I recently sat down to watch it again, expecting it would have lost some of its charm through the years. It didn't take me long to realize I had underestimated the beauty that is Bangkok Dangerous.
Bangkok Dangerous was probably the first Thai film I ever watched. Back then Thai cinema has little to no international presence, let alone a presence in genre cinema. The Pangs would change all that, even though they themselves moved their business to Hong Kong soon after. In 2008 they would revisit Bangkok Dangerous once more as a remake, fronted by Nicolas Cage. While not a bad effort (at all, in fact), the original remains unchallenged in terms of raw quality.
If you only know the Pangs from their more commercial work, you might be a little surprised by the vividness of their earlier films. Bangkok Dangerous isn't exactly subtle, subdued or timid, instead it flexes all its cinematic muscles in an attempt to get itself noticed. It definitely worked, but I'm pretty sure not everyone is going to appreciate the film's boldness. Not all the flexing is functional and if you're in the 'style over substance' haters camp then there's a lot to dislike.
The film submerges itself into the criminal underground of Thailand, following two best friends who operate as serial killers. Kong is a deaf-mute who kills as an emotional release, Jo is the one who took Kong under his wings when he was still a young boy. The two get their jobs from Aom, Jo's former girlfriend, who acts as a middle man between the boys and organized crime units. They are a pretty dangerous team, but when a client stalks Aom and rapes her, the two embark on a mission that will turn everyone against them.
On a visual level, Bangkok Dangerous is meant to dazzle. The film is shot through bright, neon-like monochrome filters, the camera work is showy and in your face while the editing is deliberate and leading. It's the kind of look some might describe as taken from a music video, but it gives the film lots of flair and it's a big part of the reason why it still works today. It's slightly dated, but creative enough to transcend mere contemporary coolness.
The same can be said about the soundtrack. The electronic-based tracks that are featured throughout the film are a clear product of the 90s, but they're used to good effect and it's more than just some random dance beats put underneath various scenes. They blend well with the visuals and enhance the dark, trippy Thai underground setting. As someone entrenched in electronic music for the past 30 years it's easy to see where and how the soundtrack could be improved, but for a film soundtrack it's well above average.
The acting is pretty decent, but the only one who makes a real impact is Pawarith Monkolpisit (playing Kong). It's weird that his career never really took off, but he lends Kong the necessary gravitas without any need for overacting. Quite the feat since he's playing a deaf-mute. Ratanasopha, Timkul and Intrakanchit put in solid performances, but they never seem to be able to match Monkolpisit's onscreen presence.
Even though Bangkok Dangerous won me over with its flashy exterior and bold stylistic choices, around halfway through the Pangs start inserting just the right amount of drama to give the film that extra bit of texture. Kong's character is fleshed out, not in a very original or creative way, but enough to start caring for him. It's a smart build-up to a strong finale that offers both an emotional as well as an adrenaline-fueled pay-off. A rare combination for this type of film.
Bangkok Dangerous is a film that's surviving the test of time surprisingly well. While certain elements are a little dated by now, they're used in such a way that they haven't lost much of their appeal and impact. The Pangs delivered a mighty fine action film, one that didn't really call for a remake and still holds its own to this very day. Style and just the right amount of substance blend together to create one of the best crime/action films of the 90s.