The Pang Bros don't have it easy. Sure, they received plenty of praise for the original Bangkok Dangerous and The Eye, but they have more impressive films sitting in their oeuvre which people seem to be neglecting completely. Especially Oxide Pang, clearly the better part of the duo, deserves more praise for his work. All the more reason to clear the dust from one of his earlier films which has all the potential to please fans of the original Bangkok Dangerous.
Som and Bank (or One Take Only, if you wish) is, although not in name, the obvious follow up of Bangkok Dangerous. It could almost be a sequel, bearing very similar themes and settings, even borrowing one of the main actors of Dangerous. But somehow, it didn't hit Western audiences, appearing on DVD royally late and looking like a sales deal, "buy 10 Asian films get one free". I didn't expect too much when going in, but was pleasantly surprised by the richness of the film and the obvious mark Oxide Pang left on this film.
Over the years, Oxide Pang has comfortably positioned himself in my list of favorite directors, convincing me with his visual artistry and strong sense of atmosphere. He belongs to the select few that succeed in adapting a more modern visual style without coming off as trying to be hip and cool. His earlier films in particular seem to draw many influences from the world of music videos, which he applies royally to create a different type of storytelling language. I guess he is often faulted for this as the world of music videos has a rather negative connotation in film land, but I myself have always welcomed this kind of change, seeing it as positive evolution of film language.
Oxide Pang takes the viewer back to the fringes of Thai society, though his subjects are less criminally oriented this time around. Som is a young prostitute, Bank is a small-time drug dealer. The both of them have little money and basically try to get by on a day-to-day basis. When they find out they live in the same building block they start hanging out together. Things are looking up when Bank scores a bigger deal, the yada yada that ensues needs little explanation. Similarly to Bangkok Dangerous, Oxide spends quite some time on the relationship between the main protagonists. Rather than turn it into a crime drama, he prefers their being together to a more action-oriented story, which blesses the film with a slow but captivating start. This might turn off people expecting some adrenaline-inducing action cinema or storyline-driven dribble, but it is one of the typical elements that gives a Pang film its distinctive taste.
Visually Oxide is up to his usual tricks again. The film is simply lush to look at. Dream sequences receive bold and harsh color filters, the editing is sharp and abundantly present, often neatly tailored to the score, the camera work strong and active. Again, very reminiscent of Bangkok Dangerous, although the overall effect here is even a little bolder. The score is equally satisfying, with good strong dance tracks (one sporting actual samples, something you don't usually hear in movies) and uptempo, happy music in the more relaxed scenes. All of this comes together perfectly in the dramatic highpoint of the film, combining great visual trickery with an awesome score to support and strengthen the dramatic tension. I just wish there were more directors exploring this kind of new, less acting and dialog-oriented ways of depicting dramatic scenes.
About halfway through the main storyline kicks in, revealing the further events of the film as tried and tested clichés. Luckily by then the characters have had plenty of time to grow on the viewer, giving them some much needed dramatic depth to cruise flawlessly through the final part of the film. Both Monkolpisit and Siwapornchai do a good job with their characters, bringing in some extra chemistry in the scenes where they are featured together. Som and Bank never becomes a very deep or strong dramatic film, but does know some touching moments and brings a set of characters that are strong enough for this type of film. I mention this only because I realize this might put off some viewers expecting more from a film on a dramatic level, on the other hand it keeps the film light and playful.
In the end, Som and Bank is another very solid entry in the oeuvre of Oxide Pang and will have a hard time failing fans of the original Bangkok Dangerous. The film is another visual feast for those who like the Pang style, sporting an awesome soundtrack and two lovable characters. But a great dramatic epic or an action-packed crime film it is not, so adjust your expectations when going into this film.