One night in Bangkok and Cage makes tough guys tumble, he’s never too careful with his company.
“There’s big money in misery. Where there’s money, there’s competition, and the guy paying me usually wins.”
I remember a week or so before Bangkok Dangerous was released I was at the movies seeing something else and it was clear that Lionsgate was banking on having a hit on their hands. Outside the theater, there was a “coming soon” poster for the film and inside a cardboard cutout. The real kicker was a massive banner hanging just above the lobby entrance. I’m not good at guestimating sizes but this thing was yuge. As I was waiting in line to get concessions for the particular movie I was seeing that day, I heard a couple guys in line behind me discussing the banner.
“Bangkok Dangerous,” the first dude said, extremely confused by the title. “What’s that?”
“Obviously it’s a movie, you idiot,” I angrily thought to myself, probably — I can’t remember all the details, this was 9 years ago.
His friend quickly chimed in, “Oh god, it’s another terrible Nic Cage movie.”
“Oh,” dude number one responded, still confused about everything. “You already saw it?”
“No, but I don’t have to,” the friend said, because who needs to see a movie before judging it. “If it has Nic Cage, it’s awful.”
Was I about to throw down? Were fisticuffs in my immediate future? No, because I had a movie to get to and also I didn’t want to get beat up. But I want the record to show I was angry on the inside!
This was the first time that I had ever experienced anti-Cage sentiment. Like the first dude from this story, I was very confused. I still loved Cage, didn’t everybody? I wasn’t the only person excited to see Bangkok Dangerous, was I?
When the film finally opened I was there that first weekend and as it turns out I may have been the only person excited. In my theater, there were a lot of empty seats. Despite all the extra legroom Bangkok Dangerous still managed to win the box office that opening weekend. Unfortunately, it’s one of the rare movies that managed to win it’s opening weekend box office while still being a bit of a flop. Per Box Office Mojo, the film brought in $7.7 million in its first weekend, just edging out Tropic Thunder by a few thousand. Tropic Thunder was in its 4th weekend. Ouch.
Looking back at all of this now and I shouldn’t have been surprised. Not only did I overhear that conversation between Cage haters, but outside of my bubble the public’s opinion on Cage was shifting. Bangkok Dangerous was released right in the midst of this shift. Audiences hadn’t completely soured on him by that point, but they were getting close. His three films leading up to Bangkok Dangerous were Ghost Rider, Next, and National Treasure: Book of Secrets. Some would say the writing was on the wall. Perhaps I just didn’t want to see it.
My initial reaction after seeing Bangkok Dangerous that opening weekend was lukewarm. I didn’t think it was bad but didn’t think it was quite good either. It was just fine. And there’s nothing wrong with fine necessarily, but fine doesn’t warrant a re-visit. So I passed on giving Bangkok Dangerous another go…until this week.
There’s a lot of great things about doing this weekly column. For starters, I get to talk about an actor I love and all the movies he’s made that I love. It’s a great platform for me to write about something I’m passionate about. But the best part is that it allows me to re-visit movies I maybe wouldn’t re-visit otherwise. Without this column who knows when I would have re-watched Bangkok Dangerous. I’m sure I would have eventually because of Cage, but it probably wouldn’t have been anytime soon. That would have been too bad because after re-watching it earlier this week I have a whole new opinion on it.
In the film Cage stars as Joe, a contract killer that works by a strict set of rules — don’t ask questions, don’t take interest in people outside of work, erase every trace, and know when to get out. His job takes him all over the world as he goes wherever the money is. His most recent job has him in Bangkok where he has four people to assassinate.
He always hires a local to help assist him. Someone that can speak the language and work as the middleman between Joe and whoever ordered the hit. For his most recent gig, he hires Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm), a local pickpocket that makes his living ripping off stupid American tourists.
Joe is very good at his job, but it’s starting to take a toll on him. To do this job well you have to live a life of solitude. Getting close to someone is a liability. For a number of years, Joe has been fine with this but he’s now starting to feel lonely and contemplating breaking his second rule. This begins with Kong, who he takes a shine to and decides to teach everything he knows.
After cutting his arm during a job, Joe heads to a local pharmacy to get some ointment to take care of the wound. There he meets Fon (Charlie Yeung), a deaf-mute pharmacist that helps him get what he needs. Joe is instantly smitten and decides he’s going to break rule number two a second time. He returns to the pharmacy a few days later and asks Fon out on a date to which she happily accepts.
There are some fascinating layers to Bangkok Dangerous. The story is sort of broken down into three parts — Joe’s killing, Joe’s teaching Kong, and Joe’s blossoming relationship with Fon. Bouncing back and forth between these three elements creates an interesting juxtaposition. One moment Joe is violently offing some baddies, the next he’s enjoying a lovely dinner with Fon.
The dinner scene is actually one of my favorites in the movie. Joe and Fon are unable to communicate verbally, but they’re still able to connect with one another. It’s really endearing and sweet and showcases a different side of Joe not seen in the rest of the movie. He’s very brooding and troubled throughout, but in this one moment, you can sense a true happiness. Fon helps Joe realize that there’s more to life and he’s been missing out.
Bangkok Dangerous was directed by the Pang Brothers, Danny, and Oxide, and it’s remake of their 1999 film of the same name. The basic concepts of the story are the same but in this version, Fon is the deaf-mute and Joe is the one who can talk, whereas in the original that was flip-flopped. “We’d like to keep him the same, but we understand that from a marketing purpose Nic needs to have some lines,” Oxide told The New York Times in 2006 interview.
Ultimately Oxide is right — no way this movie gets made in the US with Nic Cage as the lead playing a deaf-mute. Half the film is narrated by him, plus he’s Nic Cage! However, I can’t help but wonder what might have been. A big part of what makes Nic Cage the actor he is, is the way he delivers lines. How fascinating would it be to strip that ability away from him? What would that result in? I think it would push Cage to try and do something extraordinary without words and that thought intrigues me.
Part of why I enjoyed Bangkok Dangerous so much more on this recent viewing is because of the little things I noticed that I didn’t pick up on before. That’s primarily the stuff between Joe and Fon. Despite this somewhat change of heart, I fully admit the movie is flawed and I can understand why it didn’t really take off.
At its core the film is an action movie, at least that’s what audiences expect. And don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of action in Bangkok Dangerous and some of it is quite stylized and cool, but there’s not enough. The Pang Brothers are wildly talented directors and know how to handle action but the movie never goes big enough. This should have been John Wick before there was a John Wick.
Speaking of John Wick…
You know what would make John Wick: Chapter 3 perfect? Bringing Cage’s Bangkok Dangerous character* into that world. If you can pair Cage and Keanu together you’ve got a clean Oscar sweep on your hands. The ball’s in your court, Chad Stahelski.
Back to Bangkok Dangerous…
The failure to put the proverbial balls to the wall hinders an otherwise interesting story of a hitman having a bit of a midlife crisis. Instead of becoming a cool, hip action franchise that is beloved by everyone, Bangkok Dangerous prevented the Pang Brothers from ever taking off in the States and placed another nail into the coffin housing Cage’s bankability.
*This would actually only work if John Wick: Chapter 3 is a prequel to Bangkok Dangerous or if we ignore the dark theatrical ending of Bangkok Dangerous and instead accept the happier alternate ending as canon. That’s, of course, assuming anyone cares about the Bangkok Dangerous cannon.