Review: Bangkok Dangerous (1999)

Judging from reviews at hand and feet, Bangkok Dangerous is a technically proficient exercise in style (ya know, in general like) that fails to involve audiences emotionally.


Elevation of emotional affect over formal effect has to be expected, I guess, but in this instance I think it makes for unwarranted criticism. Bangkok Dangerous heavily borrows plot and theme from its generic predecessors (Hong Kong gangster/hitman films), but the Pang’s are not interested in simply re-staging situations. They succeed in expressing conventional generic elements in new and refreshing ways. Largely through formal variation, they reinvigorate a hackneyed genre that has seen better days. Cold, distant and perhaps a bit depressing, Dangerous is also energetic, taut and at times a little dazzling.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the Pang’s made this film just to show off their mastery of unmotivated cutting. Rather than follow the eyelines of characters or some kind of highly principled editing system, the Pang’s cut up, through, into and between space on the thinest of premises and suggestions. They contrive small pieces of staging that momentarily block the camera in order to engage barely noticeable jump cuts. Overlayed and multiply dissolving images enhance feelings of revoltion in one application, suggest themes of comraderie or togetherness in another. Conventional shot-reverse shot editing is completely absent. In fact, the camera is rarely aligned anywhere near a character’s line of sight. On a few occasions, however, Kong’s optical point-of-view is engaged (with the addition of a mute soundtrack) and it is in these carefully withheld moments, I would argue, that the Pang’s most overtly try to elicit our empathy. Given this effort to generate an emotional response through stylistic means, I’d find it hard to take seriously any argument that proposes the Pang’s aesthetic is one devised from two cold hearts.

My major problem with Dangerous is the relegation of the central female characters Aom and Fon to base narrative functions. Aside from her key role in the exposition, Aom’s purpose is to be raped and turn the plot into a revenge/redemption deal. Fon’s purpose is to fall hopelessly in love with Kong and hence add weight to the tragedy that ensues. Fon’s role is especially weakened in comparison to Kong, Jo and Aom who are at least developed to some extent in the backstory. The multiple flashbacks motivated by those character developments remind us that Dangerous is guided by a principle of stylistic variation. Using wildly divergent film stocks, camera filters, music, locations, and so on (this could be a really long list), these scenes offer some of the best examples of condensed, visceral storytelling you’re likely to see outside of Hong Kong.

8 ways — at least! — to avoid POV cutting out of 10.
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