MoviesToday with Eric German | Sunday, 14 September 2008

Pangs of crudeness

Nicolas Cage is such a talented actor that it’s sad to see him doing the kind of mediocre films that he’s been lending his name to for some time. In Bangkok Dangerous, Cage reaches his lowest point so far.
He plays Joe, a hitman who goes to Bangkok where he has four assassinations to execute. He befriends con man Kong (Thai actor Shahkrit Yamnarm), hires him as his assistant and teaches him everything he knows about fighting and shooting.
He successfully kills three of his human targets but when it comes to the last one, he begins to have a crisis of conscience moral problems which turn his underworld employers against him and Kong.
We’ve seen this film several times over but with different superficial details. And this one doesn’t even make anything of its Thailand setting. It’s directed by Danny Pang and Oxide Pang Chun who also did the original 1999 Thai film.
That wasn’t released locally so I can’t comment but the remake is consistently marred by its minimalist content, be it narrative or characters, and the Pangs’ couldn’t-care-less direction for anything other than violence and shootings.
This attitude is taken to such extremes that it feels like the makers’ disdain for the audience which, they assume, will put up with anything. Typically, US audiences have proved them right and the film is currently number one in the US box-office charts.
Joe isn’t given a back story and these aren’t characters, they’re just types naively split into good guys and bad guys with Joe emerging as a good bad guy because of his eventual moral qualms.
This occurs for the naïve reason that the man he’s about to kill is a good guy! Despite Cage’s attempts to make it look less embarrassing than it is, this scene is one of staggering crudeness. Then it’s back to another shooting overdose but this time, he goes for the bad-bad guys.
In a brief voice over narration, Joe gives the rules by which a hitman lives, one of these being that there’s no such thing as trust. And the opening shows him killing his assistant so as not to leave anyone who could betray him. He then contradicts himself by not only blindly trusting his new assistant, Kong, but also by becoming his teacher.
In the original, it was the hitman who was deaf and mute but here it’s pretty pharmacist Fon (Charlie Yeung) that Joe is attracted to who can’t hear and talk. Fon’s only function is to serve as a symbol of purity and innocence.
But the Pangs go it with their characteristic crudeness which stops just short of having Young wearing a placard around her neck stating that she’s such a symbol. It’s so laboured that they intercut Joe’s dinner date with Fon with a sequence showing him and Kong shooting at water melons which they bust into blood red halves.
The very loud drums crescendo that’s repeated throughout keeps promising something big but Bangkok Dangerous is a cheap, carelessly made imitation of American movie chewing gum.

Quicksand and quick thinking

Bangkok Dangerous is the only new release this week. So I’m also reviewing this film which was released some weeks ago but which is still going strong.
The new film finds Indiana (Harrison Ford) clashing with Colonel Dr. Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) and her squad of Russian soldiers. He and his treacherous sidekick, Mac (Ray Winstone), escape but Indiana is hunted by the FBI as the Communist paranoia is in full swing.
To shake them off, he goes with Mutt (Shia LaBeouf), a young man who wants his help in locating the Crystal Skull of Akator. The locations vary from the Nevada desert to the jungles of Peru and the Amazon.
There’s much more than the usual quota of gunfights, swordfights (one is performed on top of two speeding vehicles), explosions, car chases, pursuit over land and water, quicksand and quick thinking to escape the many dangers and their being captured again by Spalko and her men.
The film’s US release was preceded by the negative reviews of the US media from Cannes. Paramount screened it for only a few chosen US critics. Probably acting on orders from London, KRS released it without a press show. The film isn’t as bad as that would lead you to expect but it has serious problems and it defeats its own purpose.
The main problem with the film becomes evident right from the opening action set piece. Like many of the other set pieces it’s lavish and there’s loads of action but it’s not exciting.
The single inspired exception is that which takes place in a mock-up of the 50s typical American town which Indy discovers is the testing site for a nuclear-test bomb that’s about to be detonated. That sequence is tense and surprisingly creepy.
The action set pieces are wonderfully photographed, the tombs are fabulous sets and the lighting is masterfully controlled. What’s missing is a sense of energy and a feeling of enthusiasm in Spielberg’s direction.
In the previous films in the series, Spielberg communicated his love of the genre he was reviving. 20 years later, one is made to feel that he’s just going through the motions of directing a film that was only made for financial reasons.
It’s at a very late stage when Karen Allen steps onto the scene as Marion Ravenwood, the feisty heroine who was Indy’s love in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). The film lights up and for a few minutes it seems as if the durable spirit of that film has been recaptured.
Even Spielberg’s direction is revitalised along with the crackling chemistry between Ford and Allen, the humour and now, a strong sense of adventure. The film’s biggest and longest action set piece has yet to come. It’s a grand roller coaster ride and it’s great fun.
But eventually, the film returns to its former inferior mode and the climactic sequence may tie in with another one of Spielberg’s favourite themes, extra terrestrial intelligence, but it feels very out of place in this film.

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